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Soweto residents are getting up earlier to get fit at the free outdoor gym at Petrus Molefe Eco Park. The gym's sturdy equipment and pleasant surrounds make it the perfect spot to relax and get some exercise in.

petrus molefe gym inner
The new outdoor gym facility is proving popular with residents

RIVULETS of sweats trickle down Moses Ncube's face and neck as he kicks and punches the air vigorously in the early hours of the morning at Petrus Molefe Eco Park in Dlamini, Soweto.

Ncube (75), who gets to the park as early as 6am every day, is a fitness fanatic who will not miss a day of exercise at the free outdoor gym.

"I used to have a pot belly but that has now disappeared," he says patting his flat stomach with pride. "I have been reaping the benefits of exercising daily in this park and my health has improved."

Making the most of a great service

The free gym at Petrus Molefe Eco Park is teeming with activity as local residents, young and old, work out on the wide variety of exercise machines at the park.

Their groans of exertion are occasionally accompanied by instructions from a nearby fitness instructor who motivates a group of avid aerobics fans.

The outdoor facility, developed through a partnership between Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo and outdoor gym providers Green Outdoor Gyms, has proven to be popular with many residents, who agree that it keeps youngsters away from drug and alcohol abuse.

The park's equipment is robust, made to last, and includes a step machine, chest press, a two-person back and arms combo , among others, and hardly a day passes without the gym being used.

Soweto residents on the fitness wagon

Musa Simelane walks five kilometres every day from his home in Mofolo South to exercise at the park; a keen runner who likes keeping in shape, Simelane (23) says, "I feel privileged because many people pay money to work out in a gym but I get to exercise here for free." He adds that he is already feeling the benefits of exercising on a daily basis.

Bongani Mbatha, a bartender at Gold Reef City, says the open- air workout makes him feel more energetic and relaxed; "It is hard work and very enjoyable; the thought of exercising while surrounded by nature and birds makes me happy. It makes it easier for me to concentrate during the day."

Sophie Mthembu, a mother of three with high blood pressure, started using the gym two days ago; she laughs at the suggestion that she has joined the gym to lose weight.

"I am not interested in losing weight. I just want to improve my health," she says. "This is my second day; I am not used to exercising this hard and my stomach hurts."

Ncube, who combines his workouts at the gym by walking and jogging around the park, adds, "This outdoor gym gives residents the chance to work out for free in the fresh air, 24 hours a day."

He recounts when he struggled to stay fit after retirement; "I used to walk several kilometres to Kliptown every day or exercise inside my home but that stopped when gym equipment was installed in the park.

"I welcome the contribution it is making in reducing obesity in our society."

Mthembu agrees, saying the facility is one of the best things that the City has done for the community.

Along with offering the free gym, Petrus Molefe Eco Park, and all other Johannesburg parks, is available for hire for events and functions. For more information on holding events and functions at the city's parks, contact the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo call centre on (011) 712-6600.