Getting physical: P.E.nza's fitness regime

Russia’s Penza Region may soon become the country’s fitness paradise with a new initiative from its governor. He wants to make sport and fitness activities compulsory for all. RT checks up on the benefits or otherwise of the initiative.

After years of telling people about gains to be found in a healthy way of life, the administration in Penza has decided to move from something in mind to something in kind. The new ambitious initiative is to make the people healthier in the region – whether they like it or not. 

Every weekday morning at 10am the Tannoy in state institutions across Penza begins a familiar announcement. The anonymous but cheerful voice recites what are by now familiar exercises. At the governor's instructions, no one is allowed to slack off.

Some even go beyond what is required.

“This has returned me to my youth and my youth to me! We love our governor's initiatives!” says Larisa Strelnaya, an accountant from Penza.

­Penza is located on the East European Plain in some 600 kilometers east of Moscow and has most of its territory on the Volga Uplands. The capital is also called Penza. It was founded as a small fortress in the 17th century and has been growing ever since.

Officials in the district have been told to leave the company car in the garage, and get on their bikes. Now all government business is performed from the saddle. The head of the local administration says the initiative has not only improved health, but brought officials closer to the people.

“I asked the governor, ‘Can we have one more car to help us with our duties/’ He said ‘You can have three – two scooters and a bike, so that your officials can observe their people, see who is up to what, who is leaving rubbish outside, for example,’” says Aleksandr Vodopyanov, a regional official.

But the new program has its opposition as well. Some critics have said the governor's compulsory initiatives are a reminiscent of those in Soviet times and they violate people's rights.

“Am I abusing human rights? The only way I am abusing human rights is by not giving people the opportunity to do even more physical exercise,” argues Vasily Bochkaryov, the governor of the Penza Region and sports-mad former motorbike rider.

As the clock strikes 10pm, the police are out in force, looking for bad kids. The governor has also imposed a curfew for unsupervised under-16s.

“I do not think it is a waste of police time at all. Those children we've arrested and returned to their homes, we haven't seen them out on the streets at all,” claims Lyudmila Zhukova, senior police inspector.

And the curfew seems effective – there are no violators in the streets. The citizens of Penza can sleep well from now on, knowing that with each passing day they are becoming healthier, more conscientious and their streets are increasingly free of feral youths.