Effect of a Supervised Exercise-Training Programme on Morbidity and Wellness of South African Hajj Pilgrims in 2018: A Pilot Study

Document Type : Original Article


1 Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Sports Physician, 68 Florida Street Ravensmead, 7480, Cape Town, South Africa

3 Discipline of Public Health Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, Durban, South Africa



Introduction: Ill health and poor physical and mental conditioning adversely affects pilgrims’ ability to optimally perform the arduous physical rituals of Hajj. We postulate that a supervised, pre-departure exercise programme improves their health status and may reduce morbidity.
Methods: Ninety-three accredited pilgrims completed a 6-12 weeks graduated, supervised walking programme designed to get the participants fit to do a 10 km walk. Assessments including a morbidity survey, a six-minute walk test, and a POMS (Profile of Mood States) were conducted before and immediately after the exercise programme. A morbidity questionnaire, the six-minute walk test, and POMS were completed post-Hajj (n = 88). A group of 200 non-matched pilgrims who were not part of the exercise programme, were approached post-Hajj to fill in the morbidity questionnaire, with eight-two responding.
Results: Results for 88 participants were available with 13.7% reporting medical events during the Hajj period, significantly less than the non-participants (62.2% of 82 respondents), and less when compared to other studies (up to 91%). The mean distance recorded in the six-minute walk test increased by 5% after the exercise programme (481.3 meters before to 506.3 m after) and 3% after Hajj (520.7 m). Similar positive changes in the POMS were noted across the three time periods. The resting heart rate did not show significant changes.
Conclusion: This study shows that a supervised exercise programme for Hajj pilgrims has a positive effect on their physical and mental conditioning, which may reduce morbidity. Larger controlled trials are warranted to determine the optimum dose of exercise.