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Fit and Festive: The El-Fit Festival in Cairo

Posted on Feb 21, 2013 by Ailee Slater ()

When National Public Radio aired a program last year about violence and safety in Cairo, the broadcasters began with a story about a gym. This women's fitness center, opened by Sally Salema in 2008, was immediately popular with Cairo women looking for a place to work out and keep healthy - women could come to the gym, stay fit, and not worry about being seen by men while not wearing a veil.  However, since the 2011 toppling of ex- president Hosni Mubarak, crime in Cairo has risen, and Salema's gym has barely managed to stay in business.

Salema's story is an unfortunate example of how poor safety on the streets can lead to the problem of poor health long term. In Cairo, the number of robberies, kidnappings and carjackings have increased markedly since the violent protests which led to the departure of President Mubarak; with Mubarak gone, a strong central police presence disappeared as well, and criminal activity was able to grow. For fitness enthusiasts, this has meant fewer places to run, walk or engage in other outdoor fitness activities. For Salema's gym, more crime has led to fewer women willing to risk a public outing in order to use the facility;  in less than two years, membership fell from 550 to just 120 women. All of these negative statistics are what make Cairo's first ever fitness festival so very exciting.

The El-Fit Fitness Festival will take place on Saturday the 23rd of February; designed for men and women, adults and children, the El-Fit Festival wants to show off what it calls a burgeoning trend in Egypt of new and fun fitness activities. The El-Fit Festival looks to be an amazing opportunity for Cairo dwellers interested in fitness. The price tag of LE50 is under $10 USD, and children younger than 12 can enter the event for free. In a time when citizens do not always feel safe to bike around town or go for a run on the streets, the El-Fit Festival is providing a fantastic opportunity to do something positive for the body and for health, without the everyday fears of criminal activity. El-Fit also highlights aspects of community in Cairo; working with local partners to provide food, drink and entertainment. A huge number of health and fitness oriented events and activities are included in the El-Fit agenda.

Before the festival is even open, Cairo Runners as well as the Global Biking Initiative will each hold pre-event runs, rides and races. The El-Fit festival itself is set to include a games area, paintball, DJ and public fitness stage, and opportunities to experience fun and alternative forms of exercise which are not often practiced in Egypt - yoga, pilates, jazzercise and kickboxing for example. In terms of new and trendy fitness, however, there is one program that will be taking center stage at El-Fit: Zumba. Zumba is a popular fitness program inspired by Latin dance and music. With the tagline "party yourself into shape," Zumba has made a name for itself across the world as an innovative and enjoyable way to get fit.

The program began licensing instructors in 2005, and its popularity has since continued to grow - participants love the relaxed and vibrant nature of the workout, and health professionals see the positive effects Zumba has on improving muscle strength and overall cardiovascular health. The group Zumba Fitness Instructors Egypt has a flurry of exciting events planned for Saturday's El-Fit Fitness Festival. A dedicated Zumba tent will be placed prominently on festival grounds, and Zumba instructors will offer both mixed and women only classes. Zumba Fitness Instructors Egypt has taken their interest in women and health even further, making their El-Fit events part of a support drive for the organization One Billion Rising.

A global action group dedicated to ending the violence and harassment of women, One Billion Rising brings people together across causes to create awareness of crimes against women, and increase funding for women's education and safety around the world. Making fitness a priority is important to the health of Cairo, just as it is important to the health of so many other cities. Especially since the political turmoil of the past few years, Egypt has seen unstable access to health care due to dangerous streets, unemployment and lack of insurance for many people. Without these stable health care support systems, personal health and fitness becomes all the more essential; after all, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise are key steps to avoiding heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses. Earlier this year, the Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt even launched a campaign to dispel myths about cancer, one of those myths being that cancer is impossible to prevent. The Foundation's campaign encouraged the public to keep in mind that precautionary measures such as avoiding obesity and engaging in physical activity to shed extra weight can have a major effect on preventing disease.

The El-Fit Fitness Festival, then, has much to offer attendees in terms of good health as well as a day of fun. One special event is even designed to get participants active and in-shape long before the start of the festival - the official El-Fit Competition. This competition will include a number of fitness challenges for male, female and group competitors; at the end of the event, a winner will be announced in each category, and receive a prize of up to EL5000, or nearly $800 USD. With a prize like that, it's little wonder El-Fit publicity is telling participants to start training now. With all the struggle Cairo has seen in recent times, it is heartening to hear about community projects such as the El-Fit Fitness Festival. Health care will no doubt continue to be a governmental concern for many years to come; however, making everyday fitness accessible and fun goes a long way toward creating a healthy populous. Luckily for the residents of Cairo, El-Fit might be just the beginning of a wonderful new fitness trend.

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