A lifetime of fitness: An enthusiast ageing with grace, agility


Fitness Enthusiast Anne Marie doing Squat exercises at HIITZONE Gym, Nairobi on July 7, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

One of the best decisions Anne-Marie Burugu, co-founder of the fashion company Vivo, made was to always have an active lifestyle.

A lover of dancing, particularly Kizomba, Bachata, and Salsa, Ms Burugu is lean, well-toned, and shows little signs of ageing if you would compare her with her agemates.

“Do you feel 50?” I ask.

“I don’t. It’s a number. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m 50. It feels surreal to hit the mark,” she tells the BDLife when we meet her at HIITZone Fitness, a gym in Nairobi’s Westlands.


Fitness Enthusiast Anne Marie doing V Seat exercise at HIITZONE Gym, Nairobi on July 7, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

“I have pretty much always been active all my life. It’s something my parents encouraged from a young age. Since my primary school days, our parents would force my siblings and I to run anything from three to five kilometres before school. It wasn’t a choice. They would wake us up every day at 5am to go run. That was non-negotiable,” she says.

She and her four brothers hated it, but their father, Peter Burugu, now 76, would hear none of their excuses.

“It didn’t matter if it rained or not. The heavens had to burst for us to be given the morning off, but with drizzles, we used to hit the road. So, I used to go to bed praying it would rain in the morning. Looking back, I am grateful because fitness is something I also passed to my children, save for the morning runs,” says the mother of two, a 28-year-old, and a 24-year-old.

At school, her ‘health conscious’ parents,  as she describes them, insisted that each child picks up a sport they liked.

“My sport was swimming. I swam competitively from a very young age. Actually, from the age of 10, I was in the Kenya national teams. In the water, I was fantastic. So you can imagine from those morning runs, I would go to school and still have swimming training sessions even during this cold July weather,” she says.

This was her foundation for physical fitness, and because old habits never die, she became a gym rat in adulthood.

However, the first time Ms Burugu was concerned about her physical fitness stature was when she was a teenager.

“At the time, I had gone to a boarding school, and like every teenager, teenage life happened. I was not serious about my fitness, and I felt that impact. Weight gain wasn’t something I had to think about before, I could eat anything I wanted, but soon my clothes were not fitting,” she says.

Tracking the kilos

As a fitness fanatic, is she keen on knowing how many kilos she has or weighing herself?

She says the health benefits of exercising far exceed the potential for weight loss, and she is not one to bother to step on a weighing scale every day.


Fitness Enthusiast Anne Marie doing squat with a row exercise at HIITZONE Gym, Nairobi on July 7, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Instead, she fits her clothes to gauge if she has put on weight or lost some.

However, just like many gym-goers, there are days when she does not exercise.

“There have been periods when I’ve not been consistent, for example, when I had my children. And the longer I stay away from physical fitness, the more it bugs me because once you have experienced those benefits of exercise, you don’t want to stop. For me, physical aesthetics, perfect body, smooth skin, and all those things aren’t as important as the other benefits,” she says.

She says exercising helps her get quality sleep and become more productive. She can eat anything and everything guilt-free, feels lighter and rather not stuffy, and the best part of all, she is rarely sick.

Surviving skydiving accident

To illustrate her fitness, Ms Burugu, an ardent skier, talks of a nasty skydiving accident she suffered in December 2018 that would otherwise have left her bedridden for months or in a wheelchair.

“I had a bad landing which could have left me with fractured limbs. Three independent doctors examined me, and one said, ‘We could tell that you exercise a lot because your muscle structure is very strong. That’s what saved you.’ I would have injured my spine,” she says.

With the bad landing, she explains she experienced severe pain caused by muscle spasms. Those contractions saved her hip bones, ribs, and spine from shuttering.

Changes at 50

Fit at 50, she says, comes with many lifestyle changes.

“The older I get, the more seriously I take health checks; I still eat pretty much everything, but I am conscious of the quantity. For instance, I have a sweet tooth, which can be problematic sometimes. So if it’s cake, whereas I used to do half in one sitting, now I do a quarter or less,” Ms Burugu says.

After 50, there are also the menopause side-effects that mean her body no longer responds to exercise as it did. Most women start experiencing fatigue, muscle cramps, and joint aches. But exercises really help.

“I have experienced all that, and it can be frustrating, especially for someone like me who enjoys weight training. In the end, it’s all about how you frame your mind. Sometimes you have to accept that you aren’t as young as you used to be, but does that mean you stop? No, not all. You push what you can,” she says.


Fitness Enthusiast Anne Marie doing water rower exercise at HIITZONE Gym, Nairobi on July 7, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Over the years, one of the arguments Ms Burugu has had to shoot down among her peers is the excuse not to exercise.

Enduring attitude

“Many would say I go to the gym because I have the time, but no, you must create the time. It’s not something you do if you have the time, and the way I see it, if something is important to you, you will find a way to do it,” she says.

Even for anyone with a busy schedule as a president, Ms Burugu believes everyone can afford at least 30 minutes to exercise.

“You don’t need hours to work out; you can carve out half an hour to exercise. Most of us are now on social media, and my argument is that the 30 minutes or more you spend on Instagram could as well be a workout session,” she argues.

But even being unable to access a gym should not be an excuse.

“Exercising doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym. Find an activity you enjoy because if you don’t, then it won’t be sustainable. Going for a walk is better than idling on a couch,” says Ms Burugu.

The fitness enthusiast has never hit a plateau stage in the many years she has been doing this.

 “I have never plateaued because I’m regularly switching my workouts. I run, dance, strength train, swim, and do all sorts of activities. This way, my body has never been accustomed to one particular routine that always leads to a plateau,” says Ms Burugu, who also plays squash.

Plateau is a common occurrence among fitness enthusiasts where despite keeping up with a fitness programme, it gets to a point where the body no longer increases endurance or builds muscle.

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Fitness Enthusiast Anne Marie doing single-arm-row exercise at HIITZONE Gym, Nairobi on July 7, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Ms Burugu is also cognisant of how important muscle recovery is.

“Stretches are important and form part of recovery, but I must admit I am poor at those. I guess that’s why I schedule physiotherapy sessions every week and massages to relax my muscles and ease body tension.

This helps with blood circulation as well as feeding the muscles. Sleep is another important aspect of my recovery. I do at least 7 hours.”

I want us to keep going with the questions, but Ms Burugu requests that I allow her to start preparing for her salsa dancing event she hosts every Thursday evening at Nairobi Street Kitchen.

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