The struggle, as they say, is real.
It has become something of a UAE phenomenon: expat husbands abandoned for months while their wives and children, the focuses of their lives, escape the heat and humidity for more temperate climes. All that free time can be novel at first, but be honest, it doesn't take long for us to go to seed, does it?
Without our loved ones around us, home can seem empty, silent, lonely. Cooking becomes an exercise in futility (why go to all the bother when it’s just you?) and Netflix binge-watching suddenly seems like an excellent investment of one’s time. Eating and drinking all the wrong things while vegetating in front of that big black mirror soon begin to take their toll.
“Men tend to do worse than females in terms of some types of familial separation,” notes Dr Justin Thomas, an associate professor at the College of Natural and Health Sciences at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. “Men don't do well on their own. When men say ‘I miss you more’, sometimes they actually mean it; perhaps the same is also true for these shorter separations – the ‘summertime divorce’?”
What, though, can men do to fight a perhaps natural inclination to neglect themselves while their loved ones are in absentia? "One of the most widely accepted protective factors against mental health problems," Dr Thomas continues, "is social support, or even the expectation of social support. Expat women tend to return to home nations where social support (family, old friends) is abundant. Men, however, tend to remain in the UAE, where social support is relatively thin on the ground at the best of times. You can be alone, without feeling lonely, though."
In our technological age, he points out, digitally mediated social support is only ever a click away. “Some men make the most of the available ‘me’ time and bury themselves in worthwhile projects – from getting ahead of the curve at the office to attempting to resurrect the six-pack of their youth at the local gym.”
Ah yes, the six-pack. Has your personal washboard stomach begun to disappear under an ever expanding layer of 'insulation'? If so, you're far from alone; the pressures and time constraints of family life can do that to even the most shape-conscious of men.
Sometimes a reality check is all that's required to kick-start a health regime, but if you're like me and would rather self-immolate than step inside a gym, there must be better ways to get back on track than scheduled beatings at the hands of sadistic personal trainers. Fortunately for people like me, there is no shortage of options for getting (and keeping) in shape during the long UAE summers.
Many gyms shut during the summer because staff and regular clients are on holiday. But there are plenty that remain open and ready to pick up the slack, and there are deals to be had. Beyond Human (www.beyond-human.com) in Dubai, for instance, is offering a 10-week package of personal training and tailored nutrition plans this summer for Dh1,750, and there are loads more out there.
Not everything costs money, though. In the capital, Yas Marina Circuit hosts free weekly community-fitness evenings – ideal for those who want some moral support. The StartYas and TrainYas programmes welcome all participants, whatever their age, gender or fitness level, and take place throughout the summer. Participants can walk, run or cycle (bikes are available for hire if you don't have one) around the Formula One track in a safe, friendly, traffic-free environment.
If you have ever fancied a go at climbing, you can try it out indoors, no matter where you live. Visit www.indoorclimbing.com/uae.html, where you can find plenty of locations and helpful descriptions of facilities. Suitable for complete beginners and experts alike, indoor climbing is a safe, fun way to begin reaching those fitness goals.
Want to take out frustration in a positive way? Join the club – it's called 9Round and has just launched in Dubai, where you can participate in a unique 30-minute kickboxing-themed fitness programme that incorporates functional, interval, cardiovascular and circuit-training regimens. The programmes consist of a proprietary system of nine challenging workout stations, developed by a world-champion kickboxer. Three-month packages cost from Dh2,400.
There isn't sufficient space here to detail even a fraction of the options open to us over the summer months in the UAE, but with all the will in the world, unless your fight commences in the kitchen, it will sadly mean negligible results. John Pender, founder of paleo and vegan meal-delivery service Daintree Food is also a personal trainer and muay Thai champion, and says it's easy for men to let their fitness routines slip during the summer months.
"It's common when a partner is away," he says. "We are less likely to take care of ourselves without the encouragement of a loved one to stay fit and eat healthily. If you have a bad diet, you will never reach your fitness or health goals. Cooking for just yourself is a pain and requires a lot of effort – going to the supermarket, cooking and cleaning up – so it's the perfect time to try a healthy meal-delivery service.
“The second thing I would recommend is to find a training partner or gym buddy. In summer, with their families and children away, many men have more time on their hands and therefore a lot more time to work out and get fit. Gyms are sociable environments and many are mini communities in themselves.”
Perhaps more of us could take a leaf out of CrossFit obsessive Moe Khan's book. Two summers ago, when he was 28 years old, the Dubai resident says he realised he was "far from having a beach body. I wasn't exactly fat, but I was heavier and unhealthier than I'd ever been".
He started running, beginning with five-kilometre sessions most mornings and working his way up to Nike's 10km We Run Dubai event. After a spell of punishing summer runs, though, he had what he refers to as a "breakdown".
“As with many out-of-shape, would-be runners,” he says, “all I had done was run. My body had grown weak in all sorts of places, my movements were poor, and my body basically started falling apart after a few months.”
Khan read up about the benefits of CrossFit in building the required strength for running, and he became a convert.
“I was completely brainwashed by the CrossFit propaganda machine," he says. "The workouts are soul-crushingly difficult, but there’s a reason people keep coming back for more. Morning workouts left me mentally sharp, and ready to deal with whatever the day threw at me. I was getting healthier. I wasn’t tired all the time, I could actually lift things, walk around for hours without tiring, and man, did I look good. It was fantastic.”
It was so good that he has made it a personal goal to eventually own and operate his own gym to help people similar to his former self, like I am right now and how you might be, too. The help, the support, the results – they're all out there, you just need to make that first move. So step away from the pizza; you know it makes sense.