We have detected you are using an outdated browser.

Kindly upgrade your version of Internet Explorer or use another browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Prof Ateya: Why cycling is good for you


Prof. Ismail Ateya earned his doctorate in Applied Geophysics from Kyoto University, Japan in 2003 and a Graduate Diploma in Computer Science from University of Auckland, New Zealand in 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Surveying and Photogrammetry from University of Nairobi and Master of Science in Applied Geophysics from Kyoto University, Japan. Currently, Prof. Ateya is Director, Office of Faculty Affairs at the University where he works on the recruitment and retainment of outstanding faculty and fostering their professional development. Besides this, he is member of the Faculty of Information where is responsible for teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

During weekends, mostly in the late afternoon you will find him along the Nairobi Southern Bypass clad in full gear; gloves, helmet, light shoes and in this COVID-19 times, with a mask on, riding his bike. He’s been at it since 2019 and has lost kilos, equivalent to the number of years in a decade and more. Apart from leaving him with a light feel, it has also improved his health and way of working too. Prof. Ateya covers an average of 30 to 40  kilometres per week.

Research shows that prolonged sitting hours can lead to multiple health problems, both physical and mental. “My personal experience, especially during these stay at home days, proves this correct. This week I had an unusually long day: a series of meetings including one that lasted four and half hours, an hour-long class and another for three hours. By the end of the day, I had a serious backache. If it hadn’t been for the regular exercises, I am sure I was headed for a tailspin.”

He allows us to take a ride with him as he describes to us his love for fitness.

Were you a sporty person when you were younger?

I played basketball while in high school, but sports took a back burner in university. The Engineering School demanded all our attention and we were left with little room to do more that study. Later on, during my six-year stay in Japan for my master’s and PhD studies, it was different as the preferred mode of transport was the bicycle – therefore getting back to the bicycle seemed only natural.

When did you start taking cycling seriously?

In 2017, I realized I was sitting long hours and consequently getting easily tired and worn out at the end of each day. I mentioned this to Prof. Da Silva, an avid sportsman himself, who said, ‘Why don’t you get yourself a bike?’ He connected me with the guy who sells ex-UK bikes, and I invested in one. I did a lot of reading to ensure the intervention I was investing in were proved and from then on I have been convinced the changes I made were long overdue.

Did you change your diet?

Brian Tracy the self-development author says, ‘you lose weight in the kitchen and gain flexibility in the gym’. Stephen Covey puts it succinctly, ‘eat less and exercise more’ and I have taken this to heart. For most of last year, I ate proteins and vegetables for lunch while in the evening I would have a normal meal. I have to be mindful of the message I pass on to my children. I didn’t want them wondering why Dad was not eating with us.

What motivates you to get out every day and cycle?

At the beginning it was the fact that I had lose weight and starve off potential lifestyle illnesses. It was tough at first. I would get back home panting after cycling for just for half an hour. You know, the mind doesn’t like engaging in something hard and in this case something that is physically exerting. But the secret is to turn it into a habit; thereafter you don’t have to think twice about getting into the right attire for whatever activity.

Now I comfortably break a sweat in one hour of cycling. I have progressed from 18 speed to 21 speed gear systems and plan to upgrade to a 27 speed gear system.  Nothing will come between me and cycling; I’ve been caught in the rain a number of times but I now look at it as another state to keep me cool.

Is Nairobi County friendly to cyclists?

No, it generally isn’t. I am lucky that I live along the Nairobi Southern Bypass which has long stretches with a wide road shoulder of about 1.5 metres that one can ride along without worrying about speeding vehicles. You will not find me riding on the road unless there is a stalled car which forces me to get on to the road to pass by it.

This stretch also has added advantages: there is the company of other bike enthusiasts racing against each other, as well as the cool breeze and scenery from Nairobi National Park where one occasionally spots buffaloes, gazelles and ostriches.

What is your fitness regime like?

This year I have relaxed it a bit: I now have Monday’s as my rest day. Last year I worked out every day, besides cycling over the weekend, save for about 20 days. Nowadays, I ensure that as soon as I wake up, I put in a daily 30-minute workout, through my own adaptation of the popular 5BX. Though my focus is more on 5BX and cycling, I have a gym in the house too. I recently acquired a Maxi climber, which provides an intense workout in less than five minutes; but it is now mostly used by my kids. Cycling affords one the opportunity to breathe fresh air and enjoy the scenery.

What’s next on your fitness agenda?

Going forward I plan to start swimming immediately the COVID-19 lockdown. Swimming is gentle on one’s joints and as I grow older, I have to be cognizant of that fact.


This article have been written by Wambui Gachari.


Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu