A dedicated doctor is hoping to inspire UAE residents to follow in his footsteps, as he gets set to embark on a 40-day trek from Abu Dhabi to Makkah.
Dr Khaled Jamal Al Suwaidi, an Emirati academic specialising in international relations, has shed almost 50 kilograms in just three years after lacing up his running shoes to boost his health.
In February, the super-fit 34-year-old, now a trim 72kg, completed a 327-kilometre run from Fujarah to Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Al Suwaidi took on the challenge to help raise awareness about the work of the Cancer Patient Care Society (Rahma), a patient support group established by his father.
Now he is going a step further by planning to run an energy sapping 2,070km journey from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, to inspire others to get "out of their comfort zone", while also honouring the lives of martyrs of the UAE and Arab coalition in Yemen.
“Running for 40 consecutive days to Makkah will be a great challenge,” said Dr Al Suwaidi, who aims to cover 50km a day.
“The danger of physical collapse is a real possibility as the road will be through desert terrain, changing temperatures and vast tracts of land without any people living there.
“There will also be the presence of different animals, some of them dangerous, so I have to be ready.
“All these factors are potential challenges, so it is not only about developing my physical abilities to cope, but also the mental strength that will be required.
“The psychological readiness to overcome the dangers and unexpected surprises is something I have to prepare for.”
During the run, he will carry the flags of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“This run is considered an expression of appreciation of the ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as for the noble role of the two countries in defending security, peace, and stability in the Gulf,” he said.
A decision to change his diet and take up regular exercise came after he became a father and doctors said he was at high risk of diabetes.
A damning verdict on the health of the nation was delivered in a recent World Health Organisation report that found almost half the UAE was not completing the recommended weekly amount of exercise.
Almost 50 per cent of women and 39 per cent of men are not doing the 150 minutes of weekly exercise to defend against lifestyle-related illness such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Around the world, an estimated 1.4 billion people were not doing enough exercise to stay healthy, almost a fifth of the global population, the WHO report said.
Mabina Daniel Lengweng, managing partner at Vigour Energy personal coaching services in Dubai, said technology is making our lives easier, but is encouraging laziness.
“Unfortunately nowadays with cars, technology, elevators and escalators, we have removed all activity in our life,” he said.
“To be successful, we find 80 per cent of any exercise programme is based on the quality of their nutrition and diet.”
Nutrition and diet will be the foundation on which Dr Al Suwaidi’s challenge is built, and could determine if he succeeds or fails.
He is currently training daily for an average of seven hours, beginning with two hours of running from 5am and continuing after work for a further two hours. Regular gym sessions have been built into his lifestyle to help prevent injuries by strengthening his body.
Other preparations include a specific diet heavy in natural grain and proteins, as well as plenty of fruit, vegetables and water.
That diet has already helped Dr Al Suwaidi set an impressive milestone of running of 182 consecutive days, clocking up 5,850km, since changing his life.
He now hopes to show that others can follow a similar path.
“This initiative comes as a request to the youth of the UAE to leave their comfort zone and train themselves to meet the challenges of life,” he said.
“Young people can unleash their inner powers to achieve their great potential.
“I have stressed this idea in many of my lectures and meetings with university students and young people. I’ve talked about my own experiences with obesity and how I have overcome those problems.
“My life has changed from someone who was threatened with diabetes due to being overweight in 2015, to someone who can accomplishes great achievements in the Arab world.”