x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Why pay to get fit when the world can be your gym?

Comment I take pride in running, doing yoga and swimming anywhere, anytime.

While running, I have defied motorists that honk and shout as I cross the street or weave through traffic. I have startled golfers as they hit off at the tee when I "shared" their golf course. And doing my yoga handstand in a corner of Dubai's Al Wasl Park has drawn more than one stare. Granted, my diehard attitude to save money by exercising outside, rather than join a costly fitness club, was seriously challenged during the summer months, when it seemed the only alternative was getting out of bed at 5am ahead of the sun.

But with temperatures cooling off, there is little excuse to not head outdoors once more. You want to join a fitness club? Go for it. There are dozens of options in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and nice ones, too. But they will set you back at least Dh6,000 per year. At The Club in Abu Dhabi, which includes access to the beach, a single member must shell out Dh3,250 just to join, and Dh2,500 for every calendar year. And that's in addition to a waiting list of six to nine months.

If you are looking for a family-friendly place, there is the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club, where a family membership will set you back Dh11,500. They also have daily family passes for around Dh200. In Dubai, Fitness First, with 10 places to work out in the city, charges about Dh1,000 as an initial fee, and Dh600 per month thereafter. But joining this crowd isn't really for me. Yes, I had a weak moment this summer when, cursing hot temperatures, I was tempted to join my husband's club. I used his guest cards to swim in a proper, jellyfish-free pool. In the gym, I ran faster to impress some of my fellow joggers, and the friendly customer relationship manager offered me a cheaper deal every time I showed up.

But sweating with dozens of other bikers to the brisk commands of a beautiful Russian quickly confirmed my suspicions ? this was not my cup of tea, and far too expensive anyway. My first step was simply taking a closer look at my surroundings. I live in a small compound of eight villas in Dubai, and lived there for a year before I discovered a tiny, claustrophobic, barely-cooler-than-outside workout room on the premises. The machines appeared to be decades old, but miraculously, some still work. The moral of the story? If you live on a compound or in a building, look closer. There may be amenities you've overlooked.

Next, I decided to get creative. Try shopping at any of the Go Sport outlets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I bought a pair of arm and feet water trainers for about Dh100 each. By increasing the water resistance, they make you work out harder. Another added value? You feel like a professional swimmer. The only thing you need now is water ? and don't forget that we live on the Gulf. Should you be the queasy type and fear unknown sea creatures, swim along the shore. If you want company, consider joining a group such as "Our Friday morning swim and run in Dubai", who also organise occasional swim events such as a 4km swim around Burj Al Arab, or a 10km swim around the Palm Jumeirah.

They also meet every Friday morning at Umm Suqeim 3 beach for a 1.5km swim and a 8km run. For more information, check out their facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=64444391947). There are many other free or inexpensive groups to join to get some exercise. Abu Dhabi Striders (http://www.abudhabistriders.com/) meets at the back of the Hilton every Wednesday at 6:15pm as well as Sundays at 6:30pm. And on November 13, the group is planning a 10km and 21.1km race in the capital.

Dubai Creek Striders (http://www.dubaicreekstriders.com/) also offers an extensive calendar of running events to choose from. For me, though, I usually enjoy exercising solo. After a swim in the ocean, I'll take a jog on the beach. Club membership costs aside, beach runs save you expensive foot massages, strengthen your lower calves and build up your heat resistance, heart and lungs. It can also be far more social than any fitness club. I have made several friends running. The background noise of the sea provides a nice setting and a welcome change from blaring MTV or CNN. People are real. They sweat and pant.

If you happen to be hooked on spinning classes, you can even bike on the far side of most beaches. Invest in a pair of extra thick tires and be fearless. Depending on the sand, you may have to ride standing up. But that will only help to build up your calves and provide lots of stamina. Do you prefer an upper-body workout and want to replace the fitness club's rowing machine? It can all be done. Buy a used kayak and get out on the sea. The rougher the waves, the more of a workout this becomes. Throw your fishing line when you need a break.

Of course, if you are interested in toning or building muscle, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to do it is to simply buy weights. A standard dumbbell set will cost you about Dh700. If you want accessories such as a lifting belt, gloves and mat, add around Dh300 or so. So there are plenty of ways to get fit for cheap, without succumbing to costly fitness clubs. My conviction was affirmed just the other day when a panting runner on the beach told me he had joined a club, but stopped going altogether six months later.

"Look where it got me," he stammered, completely out of breath when we parted ways. I'm sure that I will see him again soon. uharnischfeger@thenational.ae