From record-breaking mass exercises to dragging A380's, Dubai's month-long fitness challenge came to an end on Saturday.
More than 25,000 people attended a carnival in Safa Park last month to kick off the Dubai Fitness Challenge, an initiative which sought to get people in the emirate to exercise for 30 minutes everyday for 30 days.
Launched by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai Government and Dubai Sports Council, the challenge spanned across government and private sectors in an array of fitness activities freely accessible to all age groups and levels at locations across the city.
On Saturday, fitness carnivals were held at Dubai Festival City punctuated with fireworks to celebrate the achievement of 786,000 participants' month-long efforts.
The final weekend included action-packed Dragon Boat races on the shores of Dubai Creek and a host of workouts from body combat to Zumba.
"It's been an amazingly healthy month for me," said Helen Rappak, originally from Poland. "I didn't expect I would be able to do it as work gets very busy in November in the UAE so even fitting in 30 minutes can get difficult but it worked out really well and it was all really well organised. I do hope they'll do it again next year because this has just motivated me to keep going."
Ahmed Nasser, a 35-year-old from Egypt, said he enjoyed the event so much he encouraged members of his family to join him. "We're not a really athletic family," he said. "But this pushed us to do something different and get active. It's not always easy to get fit in Dubai because we drive everywhere so it was a really nice change for us."
Fitness experts said the challenge helped constantly raise awareness of fitness and health in daily lives. "People pay too much attention to academic studies, jobs, and forget that ultimately, it doesn't matter how many university degrees you have or how important your job title, you're still in a human body that has its own needs and must be looked after," said Cristian Brezeanu, a former Olympic gymnast and coach in Dubai.
"Money and qualifications don't help when you're in a hospital bed or if you're too sick to perform your duties or be present for your family. I see people too unfit to even carry and play with their children or grandchildren, so any type of event that raises these issues, is very welcomed," he said.
He said such community events, on such a large scale, are always positive as a lot of people find it hard to find motivation to get started. "They see it as a huge obstacle to 'get fit', but once you actually get started, you realise it's actually not as daunting as you thought and that it's not impossible," said the 46-year-old who trains around four hours a day. "The hardest thing is the first step. Groups help with that moral support and when people are on a similar path, level and goal, it really encourages people to move forward when they may have been intimidated before."
Others said 30 minutes was a great start for the majority of people. "It's a great message that fitness is something for all of us, whatever our level or experience," said Melanie Swan, a yoga teacher at Zen Yoga Dubai and Fairmont The Palm for the past four and a half years. "It shows that it's a priority and it's been done in a really accessible and fun way. Offering the amount of classes which we've seen across the city, in various locations, has made it accessible for people all over the city. These allow people the opportunity to explore different forms of movement and to see that it's not confined to a gym or any preconceptions people may have."
She said it created the opportunity to not only help people explore fitness but to do it through community building. “People have come with their friends to these events and in turn, may be more likely to continue with such activities as they will now see them as something social rather than an obligation,” said Ms Swan, who trains around three hours daily four times a week. “The idea of keeping fit to many people seems boring but this is a fun way to help people get active. I personally love to see these free classes which can really tap into the lower income end of the society, as we have to remember, gym memberships and classes are a luxury for a great many people here. [It] has the power to truly change lives and is a realistic and more maintainable thing to inspire people.”
A range of partners, sponsors and fitness organisations joined the movement, putting on a total of 1,500 free fitness classes at 85 locations across the city.
Performing at the events and endorsing the movement actively were a host of international and regional celebrities who participated in the challenge. They include World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Anthony Joshua, former Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand, and award-winning fitness instructors, entrepreneurs and online personalities Cassey Ho and Kayla Itsines. “I was very excited to be part of the event,” said Mr Joshua. “It’s a great initiative that encourages people to get active and it was amazing to see so many people participating this weekend.”
Mr Ferdinand, who played 81 times for England and is the winner of six Premier League titles and one Champions League medal said: “I was very happy to be involved in the challenge, to share my training tips and to motivate people to remain active as part of their lifestyle.”
Several Guinness World Records were set including a mass participation one at Festival City for the ‘Most People Attempting Squat Jumps’ with 497 participants breaking the existing record of 473.
“What an incredible month of fitness this has been,” said Helal Almarri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. “It has been incredible to see how many people have taken part and their commitment to maintaining the fitness momentum over the duration of the challenge. We are not only immensely proud of all the citizens, residents, government organisations, schools and businesses that have engaged in this programme, but are also humbled by the determination and perseverance of so many that have shared their inspiring journey of transformation towards a healthier life.”