Once flashy epicenters for self-indulgence, the UAE’s malls are becoming playgrounds catering to the nation’s new found love for health and wellness.
These days, in among the endless high-end brands and lavish restaurants, we can find free exercise classes, state-of-the-art gyms, fitness festivals, indoor runs and other mood-boosting experiences.
Swimming on the roof
Circle Mall at Jumeirah Village Circle just opened HUNA Aquatics, which boasts a world-class swimming academy – and the first mall rooftop pool in the region. The six lane, 25 metre pool hosts swimming programs for people of all ages and abilities, including special needs services, on daily and monthly membership packages. JVC residents and the general public can book a free assessment to identify their swimming level before signing up for the sessions that suit them best.
Love the idea of starting regular yoga classes but always insist that you can’t afford it? Well, The Galleria mall in Abu Dhabi is putting a stop to your excuses. Held on the rooftop Sky Park Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings, each hour-long yoga session is totally free to attend. Offering views of the city skyline and set within a cool, urban-inspired outdoor green space, you just need to bring along your own mat, water and email in advance to reserve your spot. Meanwhile, Deerfields Mall, also found in Abu Dhabi, delighted clean eating and fitness fans alike by launching its own Fit Fest in November last year. Providing a comprehensive schedule of nourishing experiences, including health checks, classes, competitions and nutrition consultations, let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it returns.
Nothing is more frustrating than doing an unsatisfactory workout because all the machines and equipment you need are taken by new-year gym goers. However, with the sizable gyms you find at malls, this is rarely a problem. GymNation specializes in vast studios that contain every bit of kit you can imagine, including indoor sprint tracks and fully equipped boxing rings. Found in Souq Extra Mall and Silicon Oasis Mall in Dubai, Manar Mall in Ras Al Khaimah and the recently launched Al Khalidiyah Mall in Abu Dhabi (which also happens to contain the capital’s biggest gym space and spin studio), monthly memberships start from a reasonable Dh199.
Offering panoramic views of the world’s most iconic fan-shaped island, The View at The Palm is a tourist attraction and a flashy workout venue rolled into one. Directly connected to Nakheel Mall and found up on level 52, the 240m-high hotspot hosts picturesque yoga classes on the outdoor observation deck every Saturday and Tuesday morning. At Dh149 per class, it’s not exactly a budget workout. But it is a beautiful Dubai-esque experience that you’ll remember forever. Special events are also held throughout the year. In honor of the UAE’s 50th National Day, for example, homegrown cycling studio CRANK took over the space and broke the world record for the highest-ever spin class, while celebrity trainers (including British rising star Courtney Black) flock here to lead photo-worthy group sessions.
The summer is a rather trying and sweaty time for UAE runners. But, thanks to malls, joggers no longer have to suffer through searing temperatures or submit to the treadmill for months on end. Vigorously air conditioned and offering smooth, wide and flat walkways, malls are the glamorous and ready-made race tracks we never knew we had. Abu Dhabi Sports Festival has previously hosted 2.5km, 5km and 10km runs at Yas Mall, while Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi is also a fan of encouraging fitness fans to dash around its hundreds of stores. And Dubai Festival City Mall presented the ultimate balance between health and gluttony when it staged 2021’s utterly outrageous Doughnut Run. Challenging participants to wolf down a doughy iced treat after every kilometer lap, it was perhaps best suited to those with a sweet tooth, and a strong stomach.
Trampoline parks aren’t just for kids you know. BOUNCE, located in Marina Mall Abu Dhabi, Remal Mall Al Ain and Dubai Festival City Mall, offers high-intensity, low-impact cardio workout classes that claim to burn the equivalent calories of 30 minutes of running in just 10 minutes. Even if you doubt this statistic, it’s still a freeing, invigorating, adrenaline-pumping and super enjoyable alternative to plowing away on a lonely cardio machine. The BOUNCE FIT program also tones, strengthens and improves balance and coordination by using a whole variety of jumps and creative trampoline-based moves. Perhaps most importantly of all, it melts away stress and worry.
A staple of so many malls across the country, Fitness First ME has properly realized the brilliance of letting people combine their weekly shop, chores and salon trips with a visit to the gym. As well as inviting you to stretch out your workout with spa-like facilities such as outdoor pools and saunas, memberships also include a wide range of unusual and exciting classes. This includes The Trip by Les Mills (a futuristic, video game-like spin journey), Jump (more bouncing on mini trampolines), hydro combat (water-based martial arts) and piloxing (a combination of Pilates and boxing). With mixed and ladies-only gyms, the plentiful locations include Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, Al Seef Mall and Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Festival City, Meadows Village Mall and Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai and Al Fardan Mall in Sharjah. During the Dubai Fitness Challenge, the brand also offers free pop-up classes and competitions. So, make sure you keep an eye out once the most active month of the year rolls round again.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.