“Dubai spoils us!” says Domia Eco, a UAE-based personal trainer, with a laugh. “We have our petrol pumped for us, valet parking is available almost everywhere, food and groceries are delivered to our door, our car gets washed while we shop… It’s very easy to stay sedentary for the majority of the day.”
Then there are those long summers, the even longer work hours, and let’s not forget the epic weekend brunches. With this sedentary lifestyle comes the risk of health problems and weight gain. So how can you shake things up to stay fit?
With the UAE’s work hard, play hard mentality, it’s easy to find yourself gradually packing on the pounds. So here are some simple changes that you can incorporate into your daily life to stay fit and toned — all without spending hours at the gym or a small fortune on fitness devices.
“Walking for just two and a half hours per week (that’s only 21 minutes per day!) can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent,” says Eco. Walking can also reduce your risk of other illnesses, like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. “It can also improve your mood,” she adds.
So how should you walk? Casual strolls are great, but to get the maximum fitness benefits, move faster. Go at a pace that challenges you a little. “You should notice your heart rate increasing, perhaps feeling slightly out of breath and a little rosy-cheeked,” says Eco.
If you’re in good enough health to walk and want to get even fitter, Kirsteen Thain, cofounder of GetFitChickUAE, suggests doing more. “If you compare someone walking for an hour versus someone doing sprint intervals for just 10 minutes, the sprinter will have burned more calories and developed more power.”
Start with a focus on time and pace, like 30 minutes of brisk walking a day, rather than on a distance. “If you’re just starting out, you can ramp up the intensity from there.”
Taking the stairs
The adjustments you make don’t need to be massive, says Eco. “There are so many small changes that you can make. When you park at the mall to meet a friend, instead of spending 10 minutes searching for a space or sat with your hazards on, drive to the back of the car park, where there are normally plenty of spaces, and walk in from there.”
Take the stairs, she suggests. Go for an evening walk by the beach. Stay hydrated. “Busy day at the office? Make sure you get up every hour, stretch your legs and fetch yourself a glass of water!”
Set yourself a challenge of 50 squats a morning or hitting the gym when you first wake up. If you don’t have time to leave the house before work, check out Google and YouTube for free fitness videos.
Movement not exercise
Think movement, not exercise, says Clifford Tindell, founder of CoreDirection. “Thinking ‘exercise’ can put you off before you’ve even begun.” Instead focus on simply moving your body. Go for things that are social, elevate your heart rate and reduce stress.
“If you’re unable to take up a gym membership somewhere, consider movement over the course of a day. Can I take the stairs, park further from my office or do a couple of squats while waiting for the kettle to boil?”
Frequent breaks at work
Sitting for long periods of time has been called this generation’s smoking, says Tindell.
“It’s completely unnatural and humans are not designed to sit in an office environment for hours upon hours,” agrees Thain. “When I worked in a corporate office I had horrendous upper back pain that was so intense I often couldn’t concentrate, all because I sat in a chair all day!”
Hop up to make tea at work, suggests Cara Standley, director at Empiric Fitness. “Or change your lunchtime sandwich shop to something further away. It sounds small, but it will make a difference over time.”
Skip expensive fitness equipment
While alternatives like Bosu balls and standing desks seem like a good idea, experts appear unconvinced. “No matter what you sit on, if you’re sitting on it long enough you’re going to slouch,” says Thain.
“I’ve found that sitting on a Bosu ball for around 30 minutes does help relieve tightness in the back and shoulders,” says Eco. “However, I wouldn’t be able to sit on one all day! There’s always the risk of losing balance, and some may sit incorrectly on them, so not engaging the intended muscles.”
Instead of shelling out upwards of Dh2,000 for a standing desk or a (much cheaper) Bosu ball, focus on how you’re actually sitting at your desk, Thain advises. “If you have a great HR department, convince them to hire an ergonomics expert to come in and adjust your chair height, keyboard height, desk height and so on,” says Thain.
“If you’re behind the desk, work on correcting your posture,” agrees Emmanuelle Bonham, freelance personal trainer. “Save the fancy equipment for training times, so that you don’t create problems which weren’t there in the first place.”
Making the most of gym time
It’s worth investing in a personal trainer, said the many personal trainers we interviewed for this piece.
“It’s expensive but think of it like this: you’re investing in an education,” says Thain. “You don’t have to use one forever. It’s only until you know how to work out by yourself.” She points to the number of people she often sees in the gym roaming around in confusion, or using machines incorrectly. “That’s fine, we all start somewhere, but they’d get better results if they learned from an expert.”
Embrace the UAE
The UAE has so much to offer. “Go paddle boarding at City Beach in Dubai, hiking in RAK, diving and snorkelling in Fujairah,” says Eco. Join a netball team, yoga class, or the many social fitness groups out there, like FitnessInDXB.
“Be prepared to change your fitness routine in the summer months,” says Standley. “Many newbies to Dubai know it gets hot, but until you experience it, you won’t realize how you have to change that outdoor fitness regime.”
Swap in some 5am cycle sessions at Al Qudra or sign up to one of the UAE’s many gyms. Water-based fitness, like Aqua Cycling at Fairmont The Palm or Super SUP Fit (which involves stand up paddleboard fitness) are also good options.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist and globally recognized influencer and leader in the body acceptance movement.