Speaking to The National on the sidelines of the ninth International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH) congress, executive director of Community Health at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, Dr Omniyat Mohammed Al Hajeri said that encouraging the public to be more active is a “universal challenge.”
“From the conference today, we've realised that this is an issue and many countries are facing it, especially after Covid and particularly with the younger generation.
“However, it's also important that we realise that despite all the available infrastructure that is expected to enable people to be active, we still have approximately only 30 per cent of the Abu Dhabi society considered to be regularly active, so it's clear that there's still a lot that needs to be done.”
Abu Dhabi continues to push and sponsor plans for cycling walkways, neighbourhoods parks, marathons and community runs, but a 2021 Quality of Life Survey conducted by the Department of Community Development showed that up to 70 per cent of Abu Dhabi residents do little physical activity.
This lack of movement has led to health problems, such as the country’s escalating rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
“We need to have more research that tries to identify other possible barriers,” said Dr Al Hajeri.
“We need to look into possibilities of encouraging physical activity in all types of activities and basically all spaces — so more movement at home, more movement at work, more movement in schools, more movement, wherever you go.”
Previous research has found that only about 19 per cent of people in Dubai do the recommended amount of exercise.
A regional review of data compiled by the World Obesity Federation in late 2020 found that in Saudi Arabia 42 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men were obese.
In the UAE, the figures were 31 per cent for women and 25 per cent for men.
One of the main reasons for the lack of exercise mentioned at the conference was the hot weather, with temperatures in the UAE reaching an average high of 41°C during the summer months and peaking at about 50°C.
“Now, one of the possible challenges that people keep mentioning is the hot weather — and I have to say that yes, we don't have the best of weather most of the year but we do have a few very good months where the weather is great to practice outdoor activities,” said Dr Al Hajeri.
It is also important to remember Abu Dhabi is very safe which allows people to walk at night, she said.
“What you really need is to encourage people to increase mobility in every possible occasion,” the health chief said.
“So if you are working for six to eight hours and your work is mainly desk work, you can either take short breaks and walk around to ensure that you have some activity, do some of your work standing, for example, or have an office treadmill.”
The ISPAH congress is being held in Abu Dhabi for the first time this year, and ends on Wednesday.
It is the largest physical activity and health congress in the world and is widely recognised as the leading global society of researchers and practitioners focused on promoting physical activity.