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Journey to absolute fitness

- Bandana Shah

What can be stated without a doubt is that organized fitness activities are in vogue and are largely manifested in UAE. Be it in the form of adventurous climbing or in the delicate art of Yoga, health-conscious residents are coming to the forefront, motivating laid-back individuals using all sorts of persuasions. Yoga & Wellness notes how this step has sparked a collective enthusiasm and got many to take fitness seriously.

Scaling heights

A group of 560 enthusiasts, who got connected only through Meetup, has been involved in outdoor rock climbing every month in the last five years. “We take around four to six members per trip so that we can give proper attention to each participant. We help members get familiarised with rocks. Most of the climbing activities take place at Ras Al Khaimah,” says the organiser of UAE Rock Climbing, Emanuele (who prefers being called by his first name only). Emanuele from Italy has 14 years of climbing experience.

Fellow climber Lulua Faizullabhoy has come a long way since she joined the group a-year-ago. In March 2018, Lulua underwent a preventive surgery for breast cancer and is still in the process of recovering. Though the doctors suggested she wait a year before indulging in rigorous physical activities in high altitudes, nothing could dampen her spirit.

“I took introductory sessions with Emanuele’s group and practiced rock climbing indoors. It was the positive vibes and support from experienced climbers that gave me the courage to move ahead step by step. Now, I too help beginners take their first step. We have climbed several peaks in UAE and Oman.”

Lulua has been scaling mountains and trekking for almost six years as according to her, being “up there” brings out the best in her. With the support from her husband, two daughters and surgeon who told her to go ahead and do what makes her happy, Lulu scaled Mt. Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak) just four months after her surgery. “Rock climbing is a humbling sport and I don’t feel it is a task but rather something that makes me stronger,” she says.

Life with arthritis

In 2015, Consultant Rheumatologist Dr Humeira Badsha brought together some arthritis patients to form a group under the Middle East Arthritis Foundation. The members get together twice a week to do yoga for around two hours and share their stories.

“Though arthritis is not a curable illness, yoga and support from the group enhances our mental, physical and physiological wellbeing, says member Rashmi T.K who has Fibromyalgia Syndrome, a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body.

Group coordinator Sanria Khan, managing director of a heavy road transport company and a rheumatoid arthritis patient herself says, “We turn up for the weekly sessions even when we are in pain. We have helped each other be aware and accept our situation. As a group, we have come a long way.”

Sanria further says that several expats have joined the group but moved to other countries.

However, the five core members’ commitment did not diminish, “We derive energy from each other. As our conditions aren’t that visible, many around us often feel our pain isn’t real. We do have supportive families but being taught yoga by an instructor who can put herself in our shoes and being able to laugh it (pain) off together play a major role in our determination to make our lives better.”

Rashmi who is a certified trainer in pain management adds, “The group is a safe place for discussions. While medications help 10%, the rest depends on diet, nutrition and the activities we do.”

In the last three years, Dr. Vonita Singh, founder of ‘Movement Mantra’ (Dance for Therapy) has been teaching the group yogic movements, breathing techniques, cardio, stretching and meditation with an element of dance.

In May last year, the foundation organised a self-management programme for arthritis patients. This six-session event saw doctors, nutritionists, dieticians and psychologists guiding the patients on what they can do at home to make life easier.

Any arthritis patient who wishes to join the yoga group may drop an email to Sanria at [email protected]

From fat to fabulous

Six years ago, entrepreneur Sandeep Shishodia (who at the time was 38 years old) lost his 42-year-old friend due to heart attack. “This made me question my sedentary lifestyle. I was managing my businesses but how would I enjoy the fruit of my hard work if I had no life? I was overweight at 90kg. A fellow businessman and friend was quite supportive of my idea to bring together a group for fitness. At the beginning I ran merely 200m. Now I am down to 78kg and run around 10km twice a week when the weather is good.”

Little did he know that more than a hundred people would soon join this journey to fitness and internalise a healthy way of life. “We are now running a maintenance of the group. Our I Detox (spiritual activities for businessmen and professionals) programme concludes on January 10. We will soon be hiking to the highest point in UAE, Jebel Jais.”

The group’s journey began in 2013, with some 70 friends in their 30s to 50s participating in a 10km run. It was then that 56-year-old asthma patient Sunil Zaveri had what he deemed was a baffling experience when the runners asked him to join them. Considering his age and health condition, joining a fitness group meant testing the waters for Sunil. He set his first benchmark with a 1km run, unaware that his wife was carrying his medications in a car following behind. Sunil says, “The group encouraged me at every step. I went on to do a 2km run at Jebel Hafeet, three half marathons, a full marathon and last year, I participated in the Himalayan Marathon at Himachal Pradesh’s Sangla Valley situated at approximately 10,000ft near the India-Tibet border.” Tough, the asthma patient is still registered at the emergency departments in two hospitals, he will be participating in the Bhutan Marathon in February and further test his endurance in July during the Desert Classic Marathon.

In June 2013, ‘The Biggest Loser (TBL)’ was launched to help members reduce weight and fat percentage by accommodating some form of physical activity in their daily routine. It started with recording daily goals like maximum kilometres walked, stairs climbed, crunches, push ups, lunges, squats and burpees done in one go, avoiding sugar and increasing water intake. Keeping their work schedule in mind, the members divided themselves into smaller groups based on the area they reside in (Al Sharjah, Al Karama, Bur Dubai, Downtown Dubai and New Dubai) to monitor and motivate one another and even compete with the other groups. Weekly comparisons of group and individual scores and some collective activities like running and yoga would also keep them enthused.

The first TBL concluded in September 2013 with 43-year-old IT professional Dharmendra Singhvi becoming the biggest loser by shedding 10kg during the challenge. Dharmendra describes his journey as a transformative one, “Even before joining the group, I had been trying to get my weight down from 82kg to my ideal weight of 78kg. According to my height, I had to lose around six to seven kilograms. However, with the group I focused not only on exercising but also dieting and consuming proper nutrition.” His recorded weight during the TBL 1 finale was 71kg. “Now I have a conscious lifestyle. I think twice before snacking on junk food. I swim and go to the gym twice a week. My endurance capacity has also increased with time,” he adds.

The first TBL concluded in September 2013 with 43-year-old IT professional Dharmendra Singhvi becoming the biggest loser by shedding 10kg during the challenge. Dharmendra describes his journey as a transformative one, “Even before joining the group, I had been trying to get my weight down from 82kg to my ideal weight of 78kg. According to my height, I had to lose around six to seven kilograms. However, with the group I focused not only on exercising but also dieting and consuming proper nutrition.” His recorded weight during the TBL 1 finale was 71kg. “Now I have a conscious lifestyle. I think twice before snacking on junk food. I swim and go to the gym twice a week. My endurance capacity has also increased with time,” he adds.

“The plan after TBL 1 was maintenance - to help members continue with their fitness regime without exerting themselves like they did during the two months of the challenge. The group’s enthusiasm was such that the members willingly continued to work on their individual tasks and even wanted to be a part of collective activities,” says banker Nirav Gandhi of the organising team.

This led to the launch of TBL 2 in January 2015 with around 110 participants. This five-month-long event saw individuals focusing not only on weight and fat loss, but also other health parameters like cardio, strength and flexibility. One of the weekly tasks included the Almas vertical run - climbing 68 floors of the 1,180ft skyscraper. Every week, the group would nominate a “Bakra” who would be challenged to lose maximum weight.

Participant Pragati Madan says, “The group’s dedication and competitive spirit was beyond imagination. They collectively took zumba, tabata and hot yoga classes, did circuit training and went to boot camps.”

TBL 2 saw 65 members doing 10km runs, 25 ran 21km and seven completed 42km. Many did half and full marathons held around the world.

After the second season, some of the fittest members of the group trained for triathlon. In a span of three months, many learned how to swim and 21 members participated in the Triathlon held on October 8, 2018. One of the youngest members who participated in the triathlon is 14-year-old Shreya Bhatt. Her father Krunal said that she is now a regular swimmer.

In the recently held month-long Dubai Fitness Challenge, this group’s contribution was 5,500km in various activities. Around 27 members took part in various activities.

Meanwhile, the members have formed various sub-groups based on shared interests. While those interested in trekking have scaled the 1,240km Jebel Hafeet, the ‘I’ group is gearing up to host a spiritual toastmaster. “I is for introspection. We started with around 100 members including kids and young adults. Our second phase was christened ‘I ACT’ with ACT standing for Aspire, Connect and Transfer. The members focused on their personal growth and aspirations, bonding between family and kids and caring for one’s body and soul. We are now conducting interactive workshops for smaller groups under ‘I Contemplate’,” says member Sushma Shishodia.

When asked if interested non-members are allowed to join any of the sub-groups, Nirav says, “Depends on what group they want to be part of. We are a free, volunteer-based group and would want to have dedicated people on board. For instance, one can join the running group if they have completed a 21km run”.

Meanwhile, participants of TBL swear just how much it has changed their lives.

Suren Meher, a manager at an Irish firm and his wife Meenal, a homemaker, say they have had a major makeover. “Meenal became a part of the group after the delivery of our second child and had managed to shed some 5kg. Initially it wasn’t really clicking for us. Since TBL 2, however, we got more involved in both individual and group activities. And that, turned our lives around. My wife lost 38kg by working out and conscious eating. As for me, even after a long day at work, I have the energy to play with my children when I get home. My five-year-old son accompanies me to the gym twice a week,” says Suren.

He further shares that their family now avoids heavy meals after sunset. At the most, they have fruits or drink juice in the evenings.

“Earlier, we would eat first and regret later. But now we think before indulging in any unhealthy cravings, a decision that is slowly but obviously changing our lives,” says Meenal.

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