Fitness Guru Maje Ayida: Talks Health, Wellness And Happiness
The health and wellness industry in Nigeria, and Africa, has, over the years, found its way into more mainstream attention. In Africa, where most people still have a skewed conception of what the industry truly entails, its various sub-sectors and its importance to raising a nation’s life expectancy, conversations around health and Wellness are mostly superficially centred around fitness. This is often marketed as an affordable route to getting the desired sculpted body—and personal care and beauty— which of course, is heavy on the outward look.
For people who care enough to be invested in the industry holistically and its all-encompassing growth, it is, more often than not, a passion project focused on the amalgamation of humans’ bodies and minds to function in prime condition. Maje Ayida is one of them. DOWNTOWN’s Editor, Onah Nwachukwu, heard from the Wellness guru on quitting banking to find his life purpose in fitness and Wellness, and the wholesomeness that comes with investing in it.
Having spent the formative years of his life in the United Kingdom (UK), where he worked at The Bank of London for years, Maje relocated back to Lagos, Nigeria, albeit hesitantly. He explained what was an ordeal for him at the time. “You’re absolutely right; I was reluctant at first but eventually returned to Nigeria when I turned 30. My parents didn’t really give me a choice, and I certainly wasn’t happy about it for the first year. That changed when I moved from Lagos to Abuja after a year, and I fell in love with Nigeria. It’s my home, and I soon understood that my destiny was here.”
On moving back to Nigeria, Maje didn’t just dive right into the Wellness industry. Instead, he remained in the banking sector. He talked about his not-so-abrupt transition from the bank to the gym. “I continued in banking at first (I worked in Banking in the UK) for a few years but left that industry during the bank’s acquisition. Banking wasn’t a profession I chose; it was a family business, and at the time, I wasn’t clear on what I wanted in life. I was younger and very unfocused. After banking, I tried to start a couple of businesses based on the need for something to do but had zero conviction and didn’t follow through. I ended up working with my older brother for a while, but everything changed when my mother passed away. It shook me to my core, and I felt lost. It was in that very challenging period that I discovered my purpose.”
What about the fitness industry inspired him to build a whole business around it? Maje said, “While I was still in banking in Abuja, I noticed very few places to exercise; the only decent facility was at the Hilton hotel. Right from childhood, exercise had always been a big part of my life, and as I investigated further, I saw that there wasn’t really a major fitness industry in Nigeria, not compared with other parts of the world. So I started talking to Virgin Active in South Africa about a potential partnership in Nigeria. The airline had just launched here, and it seemed like a perfect fit. I went on a few fitness training courses in the UK and on a couple of trips to Cape Town for meetings with Virgin. However, I started to question my desire to bring in the Virgin brand when it occurred to me that I could create my own brand, a wholly owned Nigerian brand, especially when I saw the level of investment needed to bring a global brand. That’s when I incorporated Eden Lifestyle Ltd. But then my focus shifted back to banking, and I ended up shelving the idea and ultimately forgetting about it. Fast forward to losing my mother and some major soul searching. With the help of a life coach, I realised I had a real passion for helping people and a big dream to impact lives through exercise. So I dusted off my corporate documents and never looked back. My mother always believed I was destined for more and always told me to just focus and get closer to God. Of course, I didn’t listen, but the moment I started in the Wellness industry, everything she told me came flooding back. She believed in me even when I didn’t.”
Fitness means a lot of things to different people. Depending on the demographic you ask, the return on investment(ROI) could be to appear young and timeless or to end up with the conventionally desired body. When asked what he reckons is the importance of fitness, Maje said, “I feel it’s a lot deeper than that; it’s about survival, it’s about your internal culture, your health and mental well-being and ultimately your happiness. We are designed to be active beings, and exercise truly does enhance life. On a personal level, I love the way it makes me feel physically, mentally and spiritually. My father was very active and made sure we all grew up sporty, so exercise has always been important to me. I believe all Nigerians should have an active lifestyle.”
As far as fitness—and the expectations placed on it to sculpt our bodies into what is considered sexy on social media—goes, the ‘slow and steady’ mantra that the exercise and diet route operate on has been deemed rather slow by people who would otherwise prefer the surgical approach to achieve similar results quicker. When asked about his thoughts on the under-the-knife practice, Maje said, “It’s become somewhat of an epidemic now. Everyone is entitled to their choices in life, but I will say that skipping the process of exercise really does rob the individual of the magic that comes with gradual transformation through hard work. Nothing good in life comes easy, and there are so many mental benefits to exercise. It’s a shame to miss out. Plus, it’s not safe, but to each their own. It’s not something I would recommend unless it’s a medical requirement, people have lost their lives to it, and I wish it wasn’t glorified the way it is.”
Safe to say, it’s not just women going under the knife. A mirrored chest augmentation has been termed a fairly common procedure for men who choose to bypass the gym. Pectoral implants are a plastic surgery procedure to enhance the definition and appearance of the chest muscles through pec implants. Maje expressed his shock at the practice, “Is that really a thing? Like seriously, do some pushups, dude. Nobody is too far gone to start an exercise journey. It takes time and effort, but nothing beats a natural transformation. It impacts you in every way, physically, mentally and emotionally. Pec implants? Miss me with that!” What happens if he(Maje) ever has a hard time burning belly fat? Would he ever consider getting liposuction? “NO, I would never consider it. Diet and exercise, anything else is just laziness,” he repudiated.
Maje is pretty firm on taking the organic approach to health and Wellness. But that fitness route has in recent times been aided by more and more technology. Nowadays, there is a machine for whatever it is you are trying to achieve in the gym, most commonly to acquire chiselled abs, bums, and other parts of the body that get the most attention. Maje throws his full support behind technology, but under a condition. “As long as you exercise consistently, I think it’s fine to explore new tech, as long as it’s safe. I tried Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) once; it was exhilarating.” What is one workout routine that works the entire body, one might ask? Maje offered his professional insight, “If I had to pick one, it would be burpees. Do those in a basic, consistent routine with squats, pushups and mountain climbers and watch your body change.”
Body enhancement as a concept garnered mainstream attention and is slowly gaining its acceptance. One of the reasons is that for most people, imbibing a fitness lifestyle is far from easy. Fitness instructors understand just how challenging it is to demand consistency from their clients. Maje, however, clarified his job description as a wellness coach as opposed to just being a fitness instructor, as most people often think. “Well, firstly, I’m a Wellness Coach; fitness is just a part of it,” he expounded.
For people who are on a path to becoming a fitness coach but wonder if the fitness business is a sustainable career path that allows for a luxe lifestyle, Maje not only discussed the important traits a fitness instructor must possess, he also gave a piece of advice on how stakeholders can turn their passion projects into a financially fulfilling enterprise. “I think you must be dedicated to self-development, you must be patient, and money should not be your primary goal. Fitness is continually evolving, but the principles remain the same, put in the work. I was able to make it work because I was not driven by financial gain. I advise anyone looking to make a business of it to be committed to excellence, and every touchpoint should be to a global standard. Anything can be lucrative if you do it well,” he counselled.
Maje has been in the Wellness space for a while. He shared his observations on the fitness culture in Nigeria, and some of the myths about women who work out excessively—that have been allowed to foster for so long. “The biggest myth is lifting weights will make women too muscular and manly. This is simply not true. Putting on muscle takes time and effort, whether you’re a man or woman. The difference is women tend to put on lean muscle, which will ultimately complement their femininity. Ladies, don’t be afraid to lift; it helps in weight loss and is excellent for cardiovascular health.”
His involvement in Africa’s Wellness has seen him be named the Vice Chairman of the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa. It’s a heavy crown to wear, and with this great power comes great responsibility—one of them being public education. How do you change the perception of Africans towards holistic Wellness, place a permanent spotlight on mental health, and show them the correlations between both realities? Maje explained, “Wellness is still a growing industry in Africa, and so much more needs to be done to educate Africans on the importance of Wellness. It is an umbrella that covers every aspect of an individual’s life: Mental, physical, emotional, financial and spiritual. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis in Africa, with one in four Africans dealing with some form of mental illness. One in eight dealing with severe depression, and suicide rates are through the roof. It is important that we destigmatise mental health and therapy and ultimately raise the life expectancy here. I do like that the conversation is happening, but we have a long way to go, and I believe it will transform the continent. Humanity, empathy, kindness and love are the only way we can rise, and we WILL rise.”
At the start of the month, he started a free HIIT—an acronym for ‘High-Intensity Interval Training,’ a combination of brief, very-high intensity bursts of cardio exercise followed by equal or longer periods of rest. Think 30 seconds to a minute of sprinting, followed by a minute or two of walking or slow jogging—and Afrobeats dance workout classes in Lekki and Ikoyi. The Wellness guru who just turned 50 a week ago explained why he made it free for August. He said, “August is my birthday month, so I wanted to give back to people; it’s only free on Saturdays, though; man must still chop!”
Why afrobeats, though? Is it the best genre to workout to? Maje justified the decision, “People love dancing to afrobeats, and dance fitness is a fantastic cardio workout. So why not mix the two together? You’re more likely to keep moving when it’s to songs you enjoy. Think about it, some people will dance for 2 hours straight in a club but then struggle in a 40 min workout class. ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul.’”
In addition to health and Wellness, Maje also hosts a lifestyle show on radio, also making him an on-air personality to add to a fairly long list of labels that define who he is. He talked about his other involvements and future projects. “Yes, my show is called The Eden Corner and is about all things Wellness. Most shows I hear on radio revolve around entertainment, gossip, sports and politics, so I wanted to do something that speaks to people about their day-to-day lives, their happiness, how they manage stress and how to improve their work-life balance and topics like that. My primary business is as a Corporate Wellness service provider to various industries, and we’re fortunate to service many of the country’s top companies. We are currently developing a service that the public can also benefit from, Wellness at your fingertips. I will say no more. Aside from that, I have an interesting show coming on television this year, so I’m super excited about the future.”
As aforementioned, on the 17th of August, Maje made his grand entrance into the fifth floor. He responded with brimming elation and gratitude when reminded about it. “The big one! I am so grateful to God to have made it this far.” Although he still possesses the oomph that serves as a real-time testimonial of his healthy obsession with Wellness, there’s no denying the fact that his body, alongside that of anyone in their fifties, is no longer what it used to be decades ago. And so, the fitness approach is bound to be different. Maje gave an insight into the right way for people his age to exercise. “My advice to my peers is to go for low impact workouts and interval training over steady cardio. We lose muscle mass yearly, and testosterone starts dropping rapidly, so please lift weights to prevent this. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t respond like it used to, but we must keep pushing,” he adjured.
Perhaps, we might as well take a cue from not just the horse’s mouth but also his handbook. When asked what his secret routine to looking so good at 50 is in terms of exercising, dieting and lifestyle changes, the Wellness guru teased briefly before revealing. “Are you saying I look good at 50? Please talk straight!” He goofed on. “Well, I don’t have anything special I do, I try to stay as active as possible, and I’m deliberate about it. Pick up a hobby that keeps you active, play a sport that keeps you moving, drink water like your life depends on it because it does, and get eight hours of sleep every night. Limit processed food, eat in moderation, cut down sugar consumption as much as you can, and have a good perspective towards stress. Most importantly, understand that happiness is something you can choose daily,” he concluded.
As the interview drew closer to its end, the Editor felt it necessary to discuss Maje’s personal life. For a long spell, he was in the media following his marriage to one of Nigeria’s popular media personalities, Toke Makinwa, in 2014. With their separation two just years later, and the dramatic court appearances that followed when he hit his ex-wife with a defamation lawsuit after she had written about him in her book, On Becoming, Ayida became an easy backlash target. When she asked if he would do things differently if he could go back in time in pursuit of happiness, Maje chose the forwardever approach to life. He commented, “I generally don’t speak on this topic much. I believe we are the sum of our experiences and choices. I’ve made good and bad decisions and am grateful for my journey so far. Since I can’t actually go back in time, I will continue to practice gratitude for the past and present and strive to act with wisdom in the future. Yeah, I know I didn’t answer the question [laughs]. Bottom line, I’m happy.”
At 50, Maje Ayida has lived a life heavy on Wellness with a focus on the fitness sub-sector, and is not looking to pump the brakes on spreading the good tidings of health and Wellness across