The UK television favourite Mr Motivator brings his BounceKids exercise programme to Dubai. Rob Kemp reports
One of the world's most enthusiastic fitness trainers is bringing his new range of child-friendly exercise programmes to Dubai.
A well-established fitness expert in the UK, Mr Motivator - real name, Derrick Evans - is on a mission to improve the health and fitness of children in the UAE. His timing couldn't have been better. This year saw the release of some alarming statistics regarding childhood obesity in the GCC.
According to the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD), more than 10 per cent of children in the Emirates are clinically obese - having a body mass index that's greater than the 95th percentile in a child's growth chart. The long-term effect of this on the health of the population is becoming worryingly apparent. Heart disease, which has been linked to carrying excess weight, is now the number one killer in the UAE.
Addressing the problem of obesity at one of the earliest opportunities - school age - has become Mr Motivator's chief fitness focus. "One important way to prevent obesity is to increase physical activity," Evans told The National. "Schools can play a critical role in this. Physical education not only gives children an opportunity to be active, but also teaches them the habits they need to be active throughout their lifetime." With more than 20 years of experience in bringing fitness to the masses, Evans has embarked on a novel way of enticing even the most reluctant children into playful but effective workouts called BounceKids. It features a series of programmes and activities based around the use of mini trampolines. It's been tried at schools in the UK - with much success - and is now embarking on its first overseas campaign, in Dubai.
"There's a lot of talk in the UK about ways in which we can combat the obesity crisis affecting our kids," says Evans. "However, not so many people in the right positions are willing to put their money into it, especially with the current climate of cuts. But I had some very strong interest from UK teachers who had contacts with the Gems Education schools in the Emirates. They said I should take it on the road to that part of the world.
"The success of the programme lies, quite simply, in the combination of fun and fitness. Kids love doing it, as do adults who try it. Whenever you go to a fair in the UK, the most popular kids' attraction is the bouncy castle because it's fun. It also really works up a sweat, though you barely notice it."
For Evans, the initial target audience is children, though he's insistent that adults struggling with weight control will benefit from an adapted version. "We've got bounce apparatus with hand grips for adults. When you're overweight as a grown-up, your balance can be an issue, so this helps them get into the motion of using bouncing to fight fat," he says.
But surely no self-respecting man or woman, already body-conscious, is going to enjoy this?
"You'll be surprised. In the right environment, this offers overweight people a great means of kick-starting a health regime," says Evans. "Unlike exercise bikes there's no discomfort, such as chafing as you pedal, and unlike a treadmill you can control the pace and use less effort to gain greater rewards. Plus, you can set up a mini trampoline at home, so there are no issues of embarrassment, either."
Evans has an established reputation for getting adults of all shapes and sizes to take to exercise. He first appeared on UK TV screens on the GMTV breakfast programme in 1993 - donning his now trademark gaudy spandex outfits - with a far-from-subtle blend of dance exercise routines, performed live on TV at venues that varied from shopping centres to family homes.
Despite his eccentric approach, Evans not only kept up the breakfast slot for 10 years, he later played a key role in the promotion of a government health and fitness programme called Change4Life, as well as devising specialist workout programmes for people suffering with multiple sclerosis.
Even now with Evans's BounceKids package, the idiosyncrasy of getting people popping up and down on mini trampolines has some genuine physiological benefits. "You never see a happy jogger! You're not pounding on a treadmill or road - there's very little impact on the joints when you're bouncing. That means it's good for overweight people and the developing bones of children, too," insists Evans.
Research carried out at the University of Kentucky maintains that jumping on a trampoline works more muscles than running does. Further studies at the physical education department of the University of Michigan recorded a higher calorific burn from doing trampoline-based exercises than jogging for the same period. Exercising on a trampoline has also been reported to improve circulation and benefit children with learning disabilities and cystic fibrosis. The key safety risks - especially for children - are falls and sprains, though Evans insists that when properly supervised, the exercise presents no greater risk than any other form of vigorous movement. So much so that a number of schools in the UK have signed up to having BounceKids sessions on their curriculum.
"The kids were totally engaged and really excited about exercising," explained Stuart Brady, the head teacher at Bidston Avenue Primary School in Birkenhead, England, after Mr Motivator recently turned up at the school with his mini trampolines for an impromptu physical education class.