Sedentary lifestyle of Somali refugees in Yemen [Archives:2008/1148/Health]

April 21 2008

Abdullah Hussein, 37, has not changed his lifestyle since he came to Yemen in 2001. He goes to sleep at 10 pm and continues for 12 hours. “I have nothing to do, nowhere to go. This is my life: from hand to mouth and from street to bed,” he says.

Hussein says he can't find any job and his wife works as a housemaid and provides everything for the family.

“Since I came to Yemen, my life can be described as free time. I sit on platforms chatting with friends for hours. At home, I sit for several hours talking with my wife and friends,” he adds.

According to him, this life is similar to that of prisoners. When asked about any sports he plays, Hussein replies: “The sport I play is sitting on different platforms and streets. Instead of practicing any kind of combat games, I fight with the despair that kills every hope in me.”

Hussein is one out of thousands of Somali refugees residing Yemen. Most of them live an extremely sedentary lifestyle.

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by sitting or remaining inactive for most of the day, with little or no exercise. It also leads to the shrinking and weakening of the muscles, and the immune system becomes weak as a result of being physically inactive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than two million deaths each year are attributed to sedentary lifestyle. The organization says that sedentary lifestyle is one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability globally, adding that between 60 and 85 percent of adults worldwide are simply not active enough to maintain good health.

Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity. Inactive lifestyles substantially increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety.

Preliminary data from a WHO study on risk factors suggest that inactivity, or sedentary lifestyle, is one of the 10 global leading causes of death and disability.

Yemeni authorities estimate there are over 700,000 Somalis in Yemen. Sadat Mohammed, an authority in the Somali community in Sana'a, describes their situation as miserable.

Leaders of the Somali community in Yemen say Somalis lead a sedentary lifestyle due to the unavailability of jobs. Mohammed says most Somalis spend their time sitting. “They are expiring physically day after day,” he notes.

“As a result, their lives are on the verge exploding, and it will create more dangerous consequences for the Yemeni government,” Mohammed warns.

According to him, these refugees are not given the chance to do something useful and that there are no income-generating projects that would provide job opportunities for them. He adds that Somalis here are not provided any human capacity building, and so their lives lay idle.

“Thus they are left alone living in precarious situations, both physically and psychologically. This kind of life affects their behavior, too. Some young people become anti-social, creating many problems in Yemen, such as raping, killing and become disloyal to their community,” he says.

According to him, some resort to committing suicide due to endless idleness and the depression that comes with it. “Between 2005 and 2008, we knew of five cases of suicide in Sana'a city.”

Sana'a city lacks recreational facilities, and if any, they are too costly for most Somalis to afford.

A community center for the Somalis in Sana'a was recently closed due to lack of funds. Although it was simple, the center helped visitors practice and play games, like basketball and billiards.

Now the Somali community is seeking to set up an association that would provide solutions for the Somali refugees' sedentary lives. Funding remains the largest obstacle that hinders its establishment, according to Mohammed, who called on the Yemeni government to help them.

Activity fights aging

A recent study by researchers at King's College London, in the United Kingdom, has found that people who exercise in their free time appear to be biologically younger than their more sedentary counterparts.

Published in late January 2008, the study's researchers looked for evidence of ageing at a molecular level in the population. The study recruited 2,401 volunteers from the UK aged 18-81 years. All completed questionnaires detailing their levels of physical activity during leisure time in the last 12 months, in addition to a wide range of health and lifestyle issues.

“A sedentary lifestyle increases the propensity to ageing-related disease and premature death. Inactivity may diminish life expectancy not only by predisposing to ageing-related diseases but also because it may influence the ageing process itself,” according to the study's authors. “This conclusion provides a powerful message that could be used by clinicians to promote the potential anti-ageing effect of regular exercise,” it said.

Physical activity has already been shown to have a major impact on health. Frequent exercisers display reduced cardiovascular risk and are at lower risk for type 2 diabetes, mellitus, cancer, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis. However, despite the known benefits of physical activity, inactivity continues to be a major public health problem, increasing the propensity to age-related diseases and death.

Any amount of physical activity will make you feel better. The minimum amount of physical activity required for the prevention of disease is about 30 minutes of moderate activity, every day. For those who count calories, this translates into about 150 calories per day.

The formula is simple: at least half an hour of moderate physical activity over the course of each day.

There are some simple steps to get in these 30 minutes of activity. For example:

Getting off the bus two stops early on the way to work.

Go for a 20 minute walk and then get off one stop early on the way home.

Clean your house for 20 minutes and then add 10 minutes of walking.

Play a 30 minute basketball game with your siblings, friends or children.

If you're new to physical activity, you can start with a few minutes of activity per day and gradually increase your pace, working your way up to 30 minutes. Remember that 30 minutes is the minimum recommendation. The more time you spend moving, the more gain you will get for your health. The most important thing is to move!