Uganda is the most physically active nation in the world, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization. The BBC’s Patience Atuhaire went to find out why.

Jennifer Namulembwa spends an hour-and-a-half walking to work, five days a week. From Namuwongo on the south-eastern end of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, she navigates her way past the railway line and crosses the treacherous eight-lane stretch of the highway.

She skirts the plush Kololo hill, finally getting to Kamwokya suburb by 9am.

At work, the 34-year-old spends two hours on her feet, cleaning a three-floor building.

The rest of her day is spent running errands for her boss. And just after 5pm, she traces the same route, to return home.

“I’m used to it so I don’t feel the distance. I never wear nice shoes to work. I would also like to enjoy the good life sometimes; ride in a car or on a motorcycle,” she chuckles, showing her dusty feet in black sandals.

Her commute is not dictated by the size of her body, but that of her wallet.

Her salary is just over $100 (£70) a month. Domestic needs and her two children’s education burn through it, so she can’t afford to pay for transport.

At 7am, the sun casts long shadows of the many people trekking along the railway line.

Along the same route walks father-of-three Oprus Aduba, a hotel worker. Wiping sweat off his brow, he too says that the numbers have failed to add up.

The World Health Organization report on physical activity, which categorized Uganda as one of the most active countries in the world, probably had people like them in mind.

Changing lifestyles

The study, tracking the level of physical activity around the world, found that only 5.5% of Ugandans had an insufficient level of activity.

Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho and Togo too are also doing quite well.

In comparison, people in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia and Iraq seem to be living highly sedentary lives. About a quarter of the world’s population don’t get enough exercise.

The research findings note that, generally, people in low-income countries seem to integrate a sufficient amount of physical activity in their lifestyles, unlike those in wealthier countries.

The poorer people are, the more likely they are to use modes of transport, or be in an occupation, that involve physical work.

However, the study, an analysis of self-reported national data, doesn’t explain why Ugandans are more active than other countries with a similar level of income.

Even in low-income countries, more people are getting into formal employment, spending long hours at the office, buying cars and eating more fast food, meaning Uganda might become less healthy as they become wealthier.

The two Kampala walkers are not even aware of the WHO-recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense or 75 minutes of rigorous activity per week.

They easily surpass the target without trying.

Away from the city to rural Uganda, where an estimated 70% of the population work in agriculture, the study findings ring very true.

It seems that nothing keeps one in shape better than a hoe.

Abiasali Nsereko, a 68-year-old farmer in Luweero, about two hours north of Kampala, starts his day at 5am. Having finished milking the cows, real work starts.

It could be cleaning the cow shed, tending to the coffee bushes or the banana trees.

He works his 10-acre farm by himself, with the occasional hired labour.

“I spend about eight hours on my feet, six days a week. I grow all the food that we eat. If I stopped working, I would probably fall sick. At my age, I do not have a single ache in my body,” he says.

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