BY ROTIMI AGBANA
Maje Ayida, the estranged husband of popular on-air-personality, Toke Makinwa, is a fitness expert and wellness coach. The CEO of Eden Lifestyle is an international speaker, a writer, and currently sits on the committee of the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa. After spending 10-years in the banking industry in the UK, Maje returned to Nigeria. A fitness columnist, he has made numerous television and radio appearances, educating Nigerians on the importance of healthy living. Maje is also the founder of the fitness facility in Lekki, The HIIT Squad, the team responsible for the fitness event series known as ‘HIIT Hangout’. In this interview, Maje talks about his career and the importance of healthy living. Excerpts…
Having spent 10-years in the banking sector in the UK, what prompted you to switch professions?
My switch wasn’t immediate, though I did come up with the idea while I was still in banking. I had moved to Abuja from London and continued in banking, but quickly identified a lack of fitness facilities in Nigeria and saw a gap in the market. So in 2008 I incorporated Eden Lifestyle, but I most certainly wasn’t ready to launch anything. Years went by and I forgot about it till late 2012 when I really struggled with what to do with my life, I had left banking and was working with my brother in manufacturing. One thing remained though, my passion for exercise and activity, and it took a life coach to remind me of the idea I had. I had originally wanted to bring Virgin Active to Nigeria back in 2008, but I looked around and thought to myself, “Why bring in foreigners when I can develop my own brand and grow”? So in January 2013, I took the plunge, with really nothing but a concept and no money.
So far you have been very successful in your chosen career (fitness/wellness expert), have you at any point wished you hadn’t abandoned your banking job for what you presently do?
Okay, first of all, I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m definitely still learning, still growing in this role. Second, I don’t consider myself successful, I’m nowhere near. I guess success is relative and my definition may be a little different to other people. That being said, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything, most certainly not to return to banking, that’s suicide to me. The security was great but I truly had no love for it.
How lucrative is the job of a fitness/wellness coach?
It really depends on what type of coach you are, there’s a difference between a group coach and a personal trainer. I consider myself a fitness entrepreneur so I don’t think I fall into either category. I own a fitness facility and a brand, so I’m surviving.
Meaning that you won’t abandon your current job and revert to the banking sector for a million dollars?
That would be a big no, even if it was ten million dollars. My work is an extension of me; would you give up your life for a million dollars? I have personally invested so much in creating an ideal fitness environment at my facility; we just added a studio to give our clients more activities to choose from, I really can’t imagine doing anything else but helping people.
What is your take on the perception and attitude of Nigerians towards healthy living?
I think there has been a remarkable growth in awareness for Nigerians, but we still have a long way to go. The landscape was very different when I started, there was no Lekki bridge, there were very few gyms and healthy eating was a myth. But gone are the days when I had to explain what wellness is. People are beginning to understand the need for preventative healthcare, they want to live longer, they want to look and feel better. Clients come to me unhappy and leave with a lot more than a better physique, they leave with mental strength as well, they leave renewed. But there is still a majority that feels they don’t need it or don’t have time for it. For those I say, “Get on board the fitness train now or your body will make you do it later, and that means bills from your doctor.”
Do you think Nigerian delicacies can help in the crusade for healthy living?
Nigerians need to be educated about our food, it’s a priority, ignorance takes lives. Our food is so unhealthy but with proper education we can learn which of our foods are healthy and which are not. We use too much oil, eat way too many carbohydrate, and most people’s lifestyle don’t allow for adequate planning and meal prepping.
You are a fitness/wellness coach, inspirational/motivational speaker, writer, CEO, TV Host and currently sit on the committee of the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa. How have you been able to joggle between all these and still have time to be as fit and healthy as you are?
Well, I absolutely love what I do so it’s not hard for me, its part of my lifestyle so it really doesn’t feel like work. Some people go out to eat or go to the movies; I just work on my craft. Exercise to me is a priority and I preach that to people, make it as important as the most important thing on your schedule, and it should be non-negotiable. Imagine you have to go pick up a cheque, a big one, you would drop everything and go get it right?
You have been able to establish yourself as a successful multi-talented business man. What advice do you have for young people who wish to be as successful as you are?
Again, I don’t consider myself successful, I’m still building my dream, but I have learned a lot on my journey. One piece of advice I have for the youngsters out there is to learn to work with what you have in your hands. Procrastination is a dream killer and so many people wait for the right circumstances to try things; “when I have money, next year, when that deal comes through”, I’ve heard it all, and I’ve said it all too. There is no time like the present if you have a dream in your heart. I had no money to start building my dream, but I was able to scrape some together to build a website using a barter system, that move alone changed the game for me. But understand that there must be passion for what you are doing.
Many people believe that healthy living or keeping fit is quite expensive and is not for the poor or average citizen. How true is this?
I would have to agree with you on this, to an extent yes. Some gyms are expensive and yes, healthy eating can cost you, but one of the things I’m trying to achieve is to make this lifestyle affordable. My workouts are very cheap and I give as much advice as I can for free through my website and newspaper columns, it is important for people to understand that you don’t need expensive gym memberships and personal trainers to achieve you goals, all you need is a space and gravity. I also teach people how to eat mindfully; it’s an area that most people struggle with. I wish we could give our services away for free but alas, we have to make a living as well.
Lots of people also believe that keeping fit or healthy living is a waste of time and resources. What do you have to say to such people?
That’s easy, to those people I say, do you want to live beyond 50? As I stated earlier, this is so much more than just looking good, the effects of regular exercise are felt in just about every area of your life. It helps you combat this extremely stressful environment, it helps with your self esteem, your mental health, your focus, I could go on. It is a sad thing to me to go through life without seeing just how beautiful you body can be, and how strong it can get. The same people that consider it a waste of time are usually unhappy, stressed and quite possibly frequently ill. The benefits of this lifestyle sell themselves.
Do you think the Nigerian economy encourages or promotes healthy eating/living?
No, not so much, it encourages a survival spirit that leaves little room for healthy living. I hope to encourage Nigerians to embrace health as part of their survival. It’s so hard out there, so anything that adds to a positive attitude most be considered. I host quarterly free fitness events called HIIT Hangouts and you should see euphoria post workout, no matter how stressed people are they leave happy, you just can’t buy that.
What advice do you have for the government as regards health fitness and healthy living?
Make sports mandatory at the school level; get them while they are young. I also think there should be more campaigns to promote healthy living, there needs to be a deeper understanding of the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, it claims as many lives worldwide as much as smoking does. I would absolutely love to see more government sponsored health and fitness events across the country, more initiatives like free breast cancer screenings in rural areas. The life expectancy of the average Nigerian is way too low, they must take it seriously.
Do you think food manufacturers contribute positively to healthy living?
I would have to say negatively. They do not concern themselves with the health and well-being of their consumers and this saddens me. We need to get a little wiser and demand to know the nutritional value of what is being consumed. We have to guide the manufacturers because they are only giving us what we want. If you go for a wedding ceremony and there are small chops as well as healthier options, what will you ask for? We absolutely must help each other; the burden doesn’t rest on the manufacturers alone.