While many people associate summer with vacations or daycations, fitness enthusiasts see the hot months as just another chance to up their training and endurance. According to a Dubai Chamber report in March 2020, sport is one of the UAE's fastest-growing sectors, so it's no surprise that residents regularly participate in various races and fitness events, extreme weather notwithstanding.
In June, Kapsi Mohammed Faheem ran a 90-kilometre marathon in the sweltering heat of Dubai for the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge. Faheem began at midnight and finished in 11 hours and 4 minutes.
“The first 45km were challenging, and I kept a moderate pace because it was extremely humid. After 45km, I put ice cubes in a towel and tied them around my back, which was beneficial to [counter] the heat,” he says.
Elsewhere, mum-of-three Chloe Davies completed 2,147km (the distance from Dubai to Gaza) by bike and foot, also in June. She took up this challenge to raise funds to help children and families in Palestine.
“Before embarking on this long challenge, I knew the weather wouldn't be in my favour. However, I underestimated how difficult it would be to get the required kilometres each day while avoiding the heat.
“Running during the day became unbearable; I only had a small window after finishing the morning school run and then collecting my children in the afternoon. If I started running after 10am, the temperature was already 40-plus degrees.”
Not one to be deterred, Davies switched to the treadmill on some days, and then cycled to make up the rest of the distance. “I would train for hours in the evenings at Al Qudra. It was a lot cooler and more achievable, albeit still extremely humid and sweaty.”
In addition to taking a cue from these extreme athletes, fitness buffs who want to maintain their physical and mental health via daily exercise can follow a few tips to stay both active and safe in the hot and humid UAE summer.
Be open to the indoors
Olivia McCubbin, a head coach at Best Body Co, recommends focusing on indoor training at climate-controlled venues with proper air conditioning and cooling systems.
“This will ensure that the intensity and volume of your training don't have to drop or be compromised, and you'll be able to improve your strength and performance in a more comfortable environment.
“If you only train outdoors in the heat and sun, the change in training to an indoor gym will be beneficial. There will be less stress on your cardiovascular system, allowing you to get stronger and lift heavier weights with less risk of fatigue and dehydration.”
Time it right
If you have no option or would still like to exercise or perform sporting activities outdoors, McCubbin says taking certain precautions are a must.
“Aim to do it at the cooler times of the day, so early morning or late evening. Ensure you are well-hydrated before going outside and always carry a surplus of cool liquids. Also, reduce the intensity and duration of your workouts compared to what you would do in the cooler months.”
There are various other refreshing and enjoyable ways to torch calories and stay cool this summer. Replace running or workouts with activities such as swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, rock climbing or basketball, all of which can be practised before sunrise or at sundown.
Eat your water
Nutrition is also key when it comes to keeping fit in the summer, not least in the midst of a global pandemic.
Nutritionist Remy Shanker says: “It is advisable to eat closer to nature, and opt for nourishing foods that are in season. Colourful seasonal vegetables and fruits have a higher nutritional profile. Locally grown produce could very well be a safe bet for nutritional value, too, as our gut bacteria adapt to the region's soil and water terrain.”
To counter dehydration, says Shanker, eat water-rich fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, celery, melons, citrus fruits, berries, guavas, dark green leafy vegetables and beetroot.
“These seasonal beauties are not just a powerhouse of nutrients, fibre, antioxidants and functional compounds, but also help us ‘eat our water’ through their liquid-based composition.
“We often construe hydration in terms of just water content, but we must consider the value of replenishing essential electrolytes that are lost so easily through sweat, but have a vital role in supporting the process of cellular hydration. These fruits and veggies lend that additional boost of electrolytes naturally,” she says.
Shanker also suggests a base of about 25 per cent to 30 per cent whole grains and adequate protein in every meal. She recommends lacing these with modest amounts of fats, such as pure butter, ghee, unprocessed sesame oil, mustard oil and coconut oil to improve energy and hydration dynamics.
Advantages of working out in the heat
Hot weather not only makes us feel slower and more sluggish, but also influences our rate of recovery. Yet, Asylum gym coach Frank Golya believes summer is the best season to increase endurance.
“Exercising in the heat adds to the stress load of your fitness regimen. You become more efficient at working out in various temperatures and circumstances when your body responds by boosting circulation and sweating. You are more likely to do better in your next race or challenge when the weather is cooler. Training in the heat also improves cardiac fitness since it conditions your lungs to function with less oxygen,” says Golya.
Just don’t forget the sunscreen.