WKND Spotlight: Fighting fit, come what may
Three UAE residents tell us how they overcome personal hurdles to keep their workout routines on track
There’s a vicious cycle that many of us are all too familiar with. We grit our teeth and make the decision to become more active, get off to a flying start, bask in those post-workout highs, and then watch our fledgling new lifestyles crumble when ‘Life’ takes over.
Life. That universally-nominated harbinger of bad news for aspiring fitness enthusiasts. Or so it would seem, going by how quick we generally are to blame it for our expanding waistlines.
With the Dubai Fitness Challenge upon us, no doubt, many of us will be making fresh resolutions to work towards a healthier version of ourselves — as well we should. But the trick, as always, will be learning to sustain those routines. This week, WKND spoke to three Dubai residents who’ve made fitness a resolute part of their lives, despite the curveballs Life has thrown their way.
Motherhood isn’t the end
Tania Lolla Kaddoura used to be a sports physiotherapist and a familiar figure on the fitness circuit, where she regularly competed in marathons and Spartan races. A lot of that changed when she had her son, Noah, who is now a little over a year old.
As someone who always ensured fitness was “a big part” of her routine, it comes as no surprise that she tried to stay active — albeit cautiously — even throughout the nine months of her pregnancy. “Fitness was my way to escape everyday stress and stay as healthy as possible,” says the 35-year-old, who hails from Montenegro.
Her daily routine involved being up before dawn and going for a run before getting into the household chores, getting in some bodyweight exercises in the afternoon, and winding down with yoga at night. In all, the routines used to take up about three hours of her time every day. That’s not to say she wasn’t immune to laziness. “We are all human,” says the expat, who is a brand ambassador for both ASICS and Spartan Global. “Laziness is a part of life, but I never surrendered to it.”
When she found herself time-poor due to work or other engagements, Tania says she made it a point to sneak in tiny workouts. “Ten pushups or a one-minute plank. It stopped feeling too hard when I thought of it as part of my everyday life… It’s a bit like going for work,” she adds. “Sometimes, we’re too tired — but we still make ourselves go.”
Motherhood, however, is easily one of the biggest ‘culprits’ in derailing fitness goals. As a passionate advocate of mummy-and-baby fitness, the stay-at-home mum is hoping to launch a club for the same this month. Offering advice from her own experience, she says, “The post-partum period is not one in which to achieve personal fitness goals or break records. Your body has just undergone a huge change, so the return to fitness needs to be slow and steady. I started with outdoor walks with my baby in a stroller, progressing slowly to doing a few squats and lunges while holding on to the stroller, before gradually getting back to my former routine.”
Her key advice? Don’t underestimate the power of the little things. “Try implementing little workouts along with your daily chores, like a few squats on the way to the balcony or a few calf raises while washing the dishes. Maybe all you can do is hold a plank for a minute every day — but if you do so daily for 28 days, I guarantee it will change the way you look and feel.”
Despite the pain
When you’re diagnosed with a life-changing medical condition, especially one that involves chronic physical pain, adding exercise to the mix may (understandably) be the last thing on one’s mind. It’s been 18 years since Indian expat Sanria Khan was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a condition marked by painful inflammation of the joints. “My fingers would get so stiff in the morning that I had to place them in hot water to ‘thaw’ for half an hour every day before I could begin my daily routine.”
An HR director at the time, Sanria eventually had to quit. She started her fitness journey in 2005 with walking and has been practising yoga for the past 15 years. Her mantra is: if you don’t move it, you’ll lose it. “This is especially true for RA patients, as muscles become immobile without use,” explains the 56-year-old. The sad irony is that although RA patients tend not to move their joints due to the discomfort, the lack of mobility only increases stiffness and adds to the pain. “Exercise does hurt in the beginning — but it can be managed by listening to your body and working accordingly.”
Sanria, who has also taken up dance therapy in recent years, knows the struggle of keeping fit despite physical disability all too well. For one, trying to keep a regular schedule when you’ve got RA is often out of the question. “RA flares can crop up in an hour, because of which, there’s no way to guarantee how your day will go. But even though you may not be able to maintain a consistent time, you can work with the flexibility to ensure you do devote whatever time you can to it regularly.”
An active organiser of events for the Middle East Arthritis Foundation now, Sanria is a huge advocate of support groups. “Find one that you can share your struggle with and who know your pain themselves. When just the thought of getting into physical activity is a hurdle, they will push you on. Perhaps you may only achieve 10 per cent of your desired goal today, but you may go up to 30 per cent in a month — which you won’t achieve by sulking in isolation.”
Long work days? Keep fitness simple
As executive director at a Dubai firm, Joshua Hearnden is no stranger to taxing work schedules. “I generally work nearly 12 hours a day and, prior to Covid, also needed to travel at least once or twice a month across the Middle East and Africa. The trips would, at times, last up to a week abroad.”
Despite conflicting schedules, the one thing the 29-year-old doesn’t compromise on is his workout routine. “I’ve always been a part of the fitness community, ever since I was a child. After moving to Dubai about five years ago, I joined a gym called Inner Fight, where I found CrossFit; I also took up running.” Joshua dedicates anywhere between an hour to an hour-and-half a day, 5-6 times a week, to working out. “I don’t see it as a chore,” he explains. “For me, it’s actually a release from work. There are times I feel like slacking off, but if I don’t get those post-workout endorphins, I wouldn’t feel refreshed enough to work through the day. Exercise is great for putting you in the right frame of mind.”
Even travel is not an excuse for the runner, who will either hit the hotel gym or workout in his hotel room while abroad. “Working out is hard, but with struggle comes a reward that is second to none,” he says. In fact, he asserts, lessons learnt on the fitness circuit are quite applicable to the workplace too. “Last year, I ran two multi-stage ultra-marathons: the first was 250kms across Sri Lanka and the second was 230kms across the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Learning to manage your discipline, your body and your time makes for great application at work.”
Joshua credits his lifestyle “massively” to having fitness inculcated into his routines right from childhood. “I played football at school, then got into athletics, and started running and gyming in my 20s. It’s very difficult to shake off once you’ve had that ingrained from the early years.”
For those struggling with juggling work and workouts, Joshua says, “Fitness doesn’t have to be complicated or intense. It could just be a walk in the morning, or half an hour at home. People tend to look at social media and aspire to be like influencers. Keep it simple instead — that will be the key to longevity.”