Laila Ali inspires Abu Dhabi pupils to lead healthy lifestyles

Muhammad Ali's boxing champ daughter is in Abu Dhabi to promote the benefits of fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

The former world boxing champion, Laila Ali, centre, and Rahma Al Ketbi, centre, right, a nutrition education manager at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, talk to young students about a healthy diet. Silvia Razgova / The National
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ABU DHABI // As the daughter of “The Greatest”, and a champion of the world boxing ring in her own right, Laila Ali was just the speaker to give children tips on how to get the most out of their bodies.

Emirati schoolgirls had a ringside seat yesterday as the boxer-turned- fitness-advocate, and daughter of the legendary heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, told them of the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.

Ms Ali, a four-time world champion, called on people to take control of their health before it was too late as she visited Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.

At an Eat for Life workshop at the centre, 20 pupils from Al Dhabyania Private School in Al Mushrif listened intently as Ms Ali discussed what goes into a healthy lunch.

Holding up an apple and a carton of processed orange juice, she asked the girls: "Which is better for you, the fruit or the juice?"
"Fruit," her audience chorused.

Ms Ali was teaching the schoolchildren the importance of having a balanced diet: a mix of fruit, vegetables, meat, healthy oils and carbohydrates each day.

She said a healthy diet, combined with 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, is the best way of fighting conditions such as diabetes, which affects 18.9 per cent of people living in the UAE.

The mother of two said she had to learn the best way of maximising her body’s potential when she decided to enter the ring.

The experience left Ms Ali, 35, “extremely passionate” about fitness and health and she feels it is her duty, now she is retired, to pass on the message.

“I learnt about being fit and being healthy from being an athlete and from being a fighter because I was like the average person before competing,” she said. “I had to learn what to do to be the best and get the best performance out of my body, and that is when I got inspired to do everything right.

“Even though I am retired, I still live a healthy lifestyle because I know the importance of it. Now I am a mother I am trying to teach my children how to eat a certain way and I try to lead by example.

“A lot of the problems we have with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer – all these things we have all over the world and they are from not eating the right foods.”

Despite the cycle of unhealthy foods equalling ill health being obvious, many people still do not get the message, Ms Ali said.

“I am always inspired to encourage people to take care of themselves and to take their health in their own hands before it is too late.”

She is on her first trip to Abu Dhabi as part of a public-health campaign. Tomorrow, she hosts a fitness day at Al Bateen Secondary School.