fitness is free

Livehealthy opinion: True wellbeing is actually free

Nothing makes me happier than when I’m out for a walk and see someone along the Eastern Mangroves Promenade in Abu Dhabi doing pull ups on the bars provided, or fellow movement lovers doing squats and sprints at Kite Beach in Dubai. 

It’s such a beautiful contrast to the Ultrahuman patches I see adorning a parade of tanned, muscled biceps coming out of any of the UAE’s HIIT centers, or the Oura rings everyone is sporting, or the Apple Watches lighting up wrists.  

It’s the polar opposite of spending more than Dh1,000 per month to lift weights to music, or tone muscles on a Pilates Reformer, or hang upside down in aerial silks.

We already have a whole separate class of people now: people who can order Vitamin IV drips to their home, take regular infrared sauna and hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions and spring for ice baths regularly. Who can spend a weekend or a week at any of the UAE’s new roster of wellness centers, or fly to Thailand, or Austria, or Sri Lanka, to immerse themselves deeply in nature and detox until they feel like themselves again. 

They can pay to see a functional medical specialist, integrative physician or dietitian or naturopath their insurance doesn’t cover; who can and do investigate every whisper of non-wellbeing, every bodily niggle. They can visit a biological dentist and have metal fillings removed; get new lodgings if it turns out where they live has toxic mould. They can order organic vegetables and free-range eggs and raw milk and grass-finished beef and “clean” takeaway; they can fill their homes with non-toxic clothes, furniture, paint, bedding and household cleaning products, not to mention shampoo, soaps, deodorants and even toothpaste. They can have their air quality measured and buy purifiers as and when – even portable ones. They can explore and treat allergies and hire trainers, take a bucket of supplements every day, and have an overnight test to find out if they have apnea. They can top up their electrolytes daily with a sachet; make sure to get their macros in with the help of a canister of clean protein powder. 

They can afford therapy if they are depressed or anxious. 

All this is terribly unfair, of course, because most people can only dream of these things. But in a lot of ways it doesn’t seem to be making people any healthier, or happier, either. 

It’s one of the reasons the Dubai Fitness Challenge is such an worthy and inclusive event, and why I loved hearing about Jayson Castillo, an ambassador for the Spartan World Championship from the Philippines, who organizes free weekly fitness sessions in Abu Dhabi and also coaches people to run 5 and 10km races. Because there are so many people like that around the Emirates who we don’t hear about, helping everyone else get moving. And so many people taking advantage of those opportunities, too, despite their long hours and responsibilities and challenges we can’t imagine. 

The funny thing about all this is that one thing I notice over and over when I see people moving their bodies any way they can: there is usually just so much joy in them. That goes for the neighborhood cricket games, the parents getting their young kids to run laps at twilight, tuckering them out so they will sleep, the people playing frisbee in the sea, soaking up the sunshine.

They embody a very important thing: humans need to be outside, and to move, and we need to do it often. This is what fuels us, and this is what heals us too.

I also notice when I go to the expensive places — because yes, I like those too — how often that joy is absent. So many people have everything they could ever want, whenever they want it — they can measure their wellbeing right down to their heart rate variability — but still, it isn’t enough. 

One of the secrets of life is that we don’t need a lot of “things” to be healthy, fit and functional, and happy too. Most everything we need is already here, it’s free, and it’s just waiting for us to realize it. is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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