DUBAI // Ahmad Saif works out for as much as two hours a day, five days a week.
"I do it for health purposes, but I also do boxing," the 29-year-old exercise enthusiast, from Sudan, said in the gym of a Dubai office building.
"My friends who are the same age as me don't exercise a lot, and my parents don't exercise at all, although they do go on walks. I think more awareness is needed in general."
Experts agree with Mr Saif's assessment. Four out of five people in the emirate do not get enough exercise, according to a recent survey.
The results are part of the overall Dubai Household Health Survey (DHHS), which examined 5,000 households, half of which were Emirati. The survey was jointly conducted in 2009 by Dubai Health Authority and the Dubai Statistics Centre.
The survey revealed young adults in Dubai between the ages of 25 and 39 exercised the most, at 21.8 per cent, followed closely by the 18 to 24 age range at 21.2 per cent. However, only 12.7 per cent of those interviewed who were 60 and over did sufficient exercise. Only 19 per cent of Emiratis, both men and women, did enough exercise to stay healthy. And just five per cent of Emirati women 60 and above did enough exercise, the survey found, while seven per cent of Emirati men in the 40 to 59 age bracket exercised enough to stay healthy.
Education played a significant role in exercise, as adults who had achieved secondary and university education were more knowledgeable about the health benefits of exercise, the survey showed.
Twenty-two per cent of secondary school graduates and 26.3 per cent of university graduates said they did sufficient exercise.
Overall, women were more likely to exercise, at 25.5 per cent, compared with 17.4 per cent of men. However, fewer than nine per cent of women over 60 years old did enough exercise to keep themselves healthy, compared with 15 per cent of men in the same age bracket.
"The results strongly advocate the need to promote regular exercise, as just about one-fifth of our population gets sufficient exercise that is required to stay healthy, and among Emiratis aged 40 to 59 years, only seven per cent get enough exercise to stay healthy," said Laila Al Jassmi, the chief executive of the health policy and strategy sector at the DHA.
"People can avoid a lot of chronic diseases if they exercise, and they can manage them better if they walk daily and exercise," said Dr Eldaw Abdalla Suliman, the head of research and performance management at DHA's health policy and strategy sector.
"A few years ago, there were not a lot of facilities, but now there are running tracks and gyms, so the facilities to exercise are becoming more readily available than before. The issue now is awareness."
The survey also asked participants whether they did moderate or intensive physical activity outside of their work - such as running or playing football - that increases their heart rate for at least 10 minutes continuously.
Those who gave a positive response were asked about the duration of their exercise - the number of days and minutes.
The data was used to indicate what constitutes enough exercise to reduce health risks, based on guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine.
For moderate exercise, a threshold of 150 minutes per week was used, 30 minutes a day for an average of five days per week, Dr Suliman explained.
The moderate exercise rate is the minimum level required to improve health and reduce the long-term risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart attack, strokes, obesity and certain chronic diseases, experts said.
The gym instructor Mustafa Al Buhairi, from Egypt, explained that greater awareness about the benefits of health and exercise were needed.
"The gym is full at certain hours of the day such as lunch break and the end of the day," he said. "However, for some people, the pressures of work tend to hold them back from exercise. We do need to start education from a very early age."
Ms Al Jassmi said she hoped the results of the survey would be used in public health and awareness policies to encourage more physical activity.
"We urge all stakeholders - the public, private health sector, employees and schools - to come together and promote the need for regular exercise," she said.
19 per cent of people in Dubai get enough exercise to keep healthy.
Men get less exercise than women. Only 17.4 per cent of men and 25.5 per cent of women get enough exercise to keep healthy.
Exercise levels decrease significantly with age in both sexes, but especially so for women. Less than 9 per cent of women over age 60 are getting enough exercise to keep healthy.
Among men, Europeans get the most exercise, at 28 per cent.
Among women, Filipinas get the most exercise, at 41 per cent.
19 per cent of Emiratis get enough exercise to stay healthy. There is no gender difference in exercise levels among Emiratis both score 19 per cent.
Five per cent of Emirati women over 60 get enough exercise to stay healthy.
Seven per cent of Emirati men aged 40 to 59 years of age get enough exercise.
Overall, less educated adults and adults from poorer households get less exercise.
Source: Dubai Household Health Survey, preliminary summary of results on exercise and physical activity; Policy and Strategy Department, Dubai Health Authority, 2011