I gave up the gym five years ago when I faced the fact that my monthly visit was costing me a tidy sum. With the amount I was spending for a couple of months saved I bought some discounted running shoes and a sports bra. I have been running weekly ever since.

Also read: Find your perfect sports bra

That might not be anything to brag about, but during the pleasant months – which is about six months in a year – instead of an off-putting commute to the gym, I now ‘commute’ through the park and along the canal and then I’m back home without ever having needed to get anywhere. It’s magical to roll up on a morning and run. But if running asks too much...

Walk, or swim

Use a fitness app to chart your speed and distance. Try to walk faster and further. As you build up strength, extend yourself by walking and running in intervals. The Active10 app can help with this progression. Invest in trainers that will take care of you if you turn into a runner. If you are happier in water, why not embrace the cooler temps with a spot of wild swimming in the sea. Just keep to the safe areas and obey the lifeguards and authorities issuing warnings.

Also read: Ten of the best health and fitness apps

Outdoor gyms

A common sight in some parks nationwide, some of them have pull up bars, parallel bars and monkey bars where you can work out for free. Not ideal if you have a bad back or have been advised by the doctor to take it easy. In theory, outdoor gyms make fitness available to all at no cost, but you might want to experiment on the best time to go. The vibe does change depending on who else is using it.

YouTube fitness

This is a great way to try out different exercise styles (I had a go at barre and HIIT – high-intensity interval training). It is easy to fit a session into a spare 10 or 20 minutes and you need minimal equipment. An exercise mat would be a good buy, but you can wear what you like without being judged. The disadvantages are that your jumping around might bug downstairs neighbours, you will notice how dusty your floor is, and there is no one to tell you to try harder. Well, the instructors do try to motivate you, but it is hard to forget that they can’t see you – especially if they are working out on a beach, pointing out the odd porpoise, while you’re in a messy living room. Having said that, I sweated more in 20 minutes with Action Jacquelyn than an hour at my local yoga class, and she replied to my comment asking how often I should follow her workout (three to four times a week).

Budget gyms

These have sprung up in many areas around the country. If you don’t mind your cross trainer sitting on carpet tiles instead of fancy laminated wood, there is a reasonable range of equipment. The changing facilities are basic (don’t expect a power shower), but clean and functional. The staff can be motivating. You could wear any old T-shirt and joggers and not feel out of place. You would need to pay a reasonable membership fee but are free to leave any time. Ask for a free day pass to give it a try.

Embrace your community

You might be surprised to discover how many cheap fitness options lie within a short walk of your doorstep. Over the weekend you will be surprised to find the number of free yoga, running, biking and walking events that are being held in parks and various other locations around the country for individuals and the family. Check local websites, parks or the events section in Friday magazine and Gulf News.


I know there are people who love working out with their phone, but I am not one of them. I can accept a YouTube instructor on a nearby laptop as a replacement for a class leader, but not an illustration on a tiny screen at the end of my exercise mat. I really don’t want to stare at my phone when I am working out. If anything, I would like working out to make me forget about my phone. So while I like the idea of waking up to a short yoga workout, it was counterproductive to have to stop to close or skip an ad, and I resented having to sleep with the phone nearby to be woken up to do yoga.


When was the last time you took a football, basketball or frisbee to the park with a friend? Games aren’t just for kids, and I cannot be the only adult who gets a kick out of playing. If you have children or can babysit some, you can get fit while doing childcare. Just join in their games instead of half-watching them in the park while you check your email. Proficiency is not necessary to burn calories; in fact, a lack of it probably makes the workout harder. I have played more football as a parent than I did as a child and I think I can say I am improving. I might yet join a club. And the best bit is, you don’t really notice the cardio workout because you are having a laugh.


There’s good news for those interested in cycling. Dubai has more than 200km of cycling tracks including stretches in Mushrif, Mirdif and Al Khawaneej.

Those living in other areas of Dubai don’t have to sweat. There are cycling tracks in Seih Assalam, Bab Al Shams, Al Qudra Street, Dubai Water Canal area, Jumeirah Street, and Al Mankhool Street, Al Rigga and in Bur Dubai along roads including Al Fahidi, Al Falah, Al Ghubaiba and Al Hisin.

Also read: Cycling in the UAE: The ultimate guide

If you are interested in hiking, there’re plenty of options available. For instance, there’s a lovely trail in Hatta that passes alongside Hatta Heritage Village, a park, a family recreation and children’s play area and leads up to the hills near the picturesque dam. With the weather becoming pleasant, this could be just the time to explore the outdoors. However, please take adequate care when going cycling or hiking. Follow safety precautions and heed the advise of local authorities in the trail areas.

Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2018