x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Healthy example of entrepreneurship

It's not easy to start, build and maintain a small business, and it's even more difficult for a woman, especially in the UAE.

It's not easy to start, build and maintain a small business, and it's even more difficult for a woman - especially one who is trying to introduce a new concept to a reluctant clientele. So, there are plenty of reasons why the story of Dubai's Asma Hilal Lootah, 36, is inspiring.

As reported in The National today, Mrs Lootah has successfully parlayed her personal health and fitness regime into a thriving and award-winning enterprise.

Her path to success was rocky. When she first told some of her fellow Emiratis that she wanted to open a Pilates studio, they laughed. Many of them hadn't even heard of Pilates, an exercise system developed in the early 20th century by a German fitness instructor, Joseph Pilates.

"I was stuck in a rat race and wanted to do something I enjoyed, something that made a difference," Mrs Lootah said. "My brother suggested that since I loved Pilates so much, I should open up a studio."

The Hundred Pilates Studio opened in Dubai's Healthcare City in 2008, and just two years later it won a Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders. Emirates Woman magazine has just named Mrs Lootah among its 2012 Emirates Woman of the Year winners.

Like all good entrepreneurs, Mrs Lootah is not resting on her laurels. Her focus at the moment is building up her Emirati clientele. While some of those who laughed have become converts, Emiratis still make up only 10 per cent of the client base.

She has made great efforts to be sensitive - offering segregated classes for men and women - but she says she is battling the fact that physical activity "is not a big part of the culture" in the UAE.

Since regular exercise is among the recommended treatments for several common medical conditions, including diabetes and obesity, Mrs Lootah is doing something that goes beyond business and helps to promote a healthy community.

The initial struggle to popularise the fitness regime highlights a broader issue in the UAE. Sedentary lifestyles, aggravated by the increasing mall culture and proliferation of fast-food outlets, can contribute to all sorts of chronic diseases. And yet there is a widespread scepticism about the value of regular exercise. That mindset has to be shaken up for the good of the nation.