Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Govt effort boosts exercise in capital's public spaces

Early morning exercisers in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium last week.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Higher traffic at Olympic Stadium just one indicator of Phnom Penh residents' penchant for daily outdoor workouts.

AS deputy chief of the security team at Olympic Stadium, Kim Vin has seen firsthand the effects of a government-led push to get more Phnom Penh residents exercising in the capital's public spaces.

"I started to work as a security guard here three years ago," he said. "Not so many came to exercise here then - only about 60 to 70 percent of what is here now."

These days, he said, roughly 3,000 city residents exercise at the stadium daily.

The increase is in part the result of the government effort, which has included the beautification of a number of public parks, said Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Health Department.

"There are now more places where people can come to get fresh air and pleasant scenery," he said.

The need for exercise

The negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle are well-known, Veng Thai said. Lack of exercise can lead to arthritis, high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure, among other conditions, he said.

"We know that Phnom Penh residents do not have as much opportunity to use their body strength as those who live outside Phnom Penh, which means they store more toxins in their bodies," he said.

Veng Thai said the promotion of exercise in urban public spaces was in part modeled after a similar effort in China, a country with one of the highest spending totals for publicly accessible exercise venues and equipment.

This spending enables citizens to work out without having to pay for a gym membership, he explained.

There are now more places where people can come to get fresh air.

"Cambodia is not yet able to provide as many facilities in public places, due to the costs and difficulty in ensuring they are properly maintained," Veng Thai said.

Khuon Tann, 62, said he did not understand the importance of daily exercise until his doctor diagnosed him with diabetes four years ago.

Since then, the Angkor Beer Company employee has joined a sports club, though he said he had recently begun using urban public spaces with greater frequency.

"I usually exercise on the riverside, at home and occasionally at Olympic Stadium," he said.

Long Sivan, manager of the Phnom Penh Sports Club, said the promotion of exercise in public spaces might lighten the traffic at his gym, which receives between 200 and 300 visitors each day.

But he said this might not necessarily be a bad thing.

"We do not know how many more customers we can accept," he said.


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