Tiny tots running on tiny treadmills, four-year-olds using steppers and six-year-olds pumping up.
Sound incredible? With five new gyms opening up on Monday, city kids could be doing just that.
In a city teeming with high-rises, horizontal stretches of space have almost disappeared and finding place for children to play has become impossible. Despite much effort, when the only place Rajesh Bhatia found for his six-year-old son to play was alongside parked cars in the tiny compound of their building, he decided it was time to do something.
Bhatia, who owns 11 pre-primary schools in the city under the banner of Tree House Education and Accessories Private Ltd, tied up with fitness expert Leena Mogre to set-up these Kid’s Gyms at five of his centres – Matunga, Khar, Juhu, Vile Parle and Kandivli.
“I realised there must be many parents like me, who want such a place for their children, so I decided to open gyms just like the ones in the US and Europe,” he said. These gyms cater to children aged 4 to 11 and have specially designed, miniature equipment coloured bright red, blue and yellow – flown from the US and China.
The centre at Khar has a ground-floor room for circuit training, with specially designed hydraulic pumps for “weightless” lifting. Here, children can tone their shoulders, biceps, triceps and legs. A small room on the first floor is equipped for cardio-vascular training, with manual equipment that requires the use of leg muscles and improves blood circulation.
Registration opened four days ago and there are already 60 members. Before schools break for vacations in April, he plans to open six more gyms. By the end of next year, he plans to take that number to 40. The first 100 children can enrol for Rs 10,000. After that, a year’s membership will cost Rs 12,000. And children will also be able to learn yoga, salsa and even mallakhamb, an ancient Indian exercise form, and get dietary tips from nutritionists.
But could hitting the gym at age four create a generation of fitness-obsessed youngsters? Anti-obesity surgery expert Dr. Muffazal Lakdawala thinks they are a good concept. “A recent survey across metros showed that 20 per cent children are overweight, and six per cent obese. This needs to be tacked immediately or children will grow up to have diabetes and other ailments,” he said.
Not everyone, however, is convinced. “Children at that age are still growing. Their bones are not fully calcified,” said Yusuf Machiswala, head of Psychiatrists’ Association of Bombay. “The wrong kind of exercises could stunt their physical growth and affect their mental functioning.”
For many children, too, the idea of working out in an air-conditioned room is no replacement for playing with friends. “I like to go and play hide-n-seek. Not go to the gym,” said 10-year-old Sheikh Nizzamudin, as tried out the rowing machine.