Survey finds UAE residents are forsaking exercise

Despite warnings of the need for exercise to avoid obesity and its risks, too many residents are sedentary, The National’s two-day snapshot of UAE health shows.

Almost half of respondents aged between 25 and 29 said they run. Jeff Topping for The National
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ABU DHABI // One in three residents admit that they take no physical exercise, and many more told the YouGov poll they do less than the recommended amount.

This is despite experts saying inactive lifestyles can lead to some of the biggest health problems in the region, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“If people are not exercising they are following an unhealthy lifestyle and it is bad for them,” says Dr Anita Das Gupta, a clinical dietician at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital.

“Walking, running and dancing are all exercise and one should ensure they are active. If they don’t they will become obese, and obesity is linked to osteoporosis and cardiovascular disorders, to name but a couple.”

The YouGov health survey, commissioned by The National, polled 1,031 people from across the UAE.

It aimed to provide a broad look at health issues, including lifestyle, diseases and how medical services are evolving, and gain personal feedback from visits to healthcare centres.

The survey found that 32 per cent of respondents do not exercise at all and another 26 per cent only exercise one or two hours a week.

International guidelines recommend at least half an hour of exercise a day to stay healthy.

“Taking exercise seriously is important,” says Dr Gupta. “Instead of chatting with friends, take a brisk walk and focus on it. Even if one exercises for 20 minutes daily it will help. They will also feel positive about themselves.”

Omer Odhan, 58, says he does not exercise at all.

The Abu Dhabi resident says his job as a banker requires him to travel to Dubai every day of the week and he struggles for time.

“My job does not allow me to take any exercise or sport,” Mr Odhan says. “I am too busy.”

A quarter of respondents dedicate three to five hours a week for exercising. Eighteen per cent are more committed and exercise six hours a week.

“The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise to improve cardiovascular health,” says Lisa Stephens, executive director of Arab Health, the largest health exhibition and medical congress in the Middle East.

The survey found westerners are most likely to exercise, compared with Emiratis and Arab and Asian expatriates, while those aged over 40 are more likely to be active than younger residents.

Sharjah residents were the most sedentary of all.

The most common exercise is walking, practised by 73 per cent of those who say they are active.

And the interest in walking increases with age. Eighty-two per cent who are above 40 years old exercise through walking, as opposed to 62 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

One in three who exercise like to run. This is especially evident among the 25 to 29 year age group, with almost half (49 per cent) running regularly.

Going to the gym, swimming and yoga are other types of exercise residents do to keep fit.

But cycling was found to be the least common pastime.

“This shows that a considerable portion of the UAE society leads a sedentary life, which might be due to several reasons – be it the long working hours, the weather or the lack of encouragement,” says Lara Al Barazi, YouGov associate research director.

“This should be an incentive for authorities, sponsors and even health insurance companies to encourage exercise and show the benefits of what a couple of active hours a week can do.”

Of the 1,031 respondents, 168 were Emiratis, 209 Arab expatriates, 534 Asian expatriates and 99 westerners. The remaining 21 were of other nationalities.