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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Walk the city: recent research shows that it could end up saving your life

Dubai may not be the most pedestrian friendly destination but a simple stroll around the neighbourhood could make all the difference 

JBR's The Walk is a good place for a shorter stroll that allows for people-watching. Christopher Pike / The National
JBR's The Walk is a good place for a shorter stroll that allows for people-watching. Christopher Pike / The National

Bad news for Dubai’s car lovers. Research released last week has linked the walkability of a city to the health of its inhabitants.

A paper compiled by researchers at Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong found a direct correlation between how pedestrian-friendly a neighbourhood is, and how likely its residents are to suffer from high blood pressure and hypertension.

The study considered a range of metrics, including residential and retail density, public transport, street-level movement and proximity to attractive destinations.

It found that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can stave off a whole range of ills – while promoting social interactions, which are also essential to well-being.

Now, Dubai is not, as many of us know, particularly pedestrian friendly. Its mammoth roads are seldom flanked by proper pavements; zebra crossings need to be approached with extreme caution, and the closest most of us come to a weekend stroll is wandering around Dubai Mall’s gargantuan car park trying to remember where we left the car.

On the odd occasion that a valet service is not available, we descend into a state of panic and search for a parking spot that is as close to the entrance of our desired destination as possible. This may be a Pavlovian response – how often have you made a lengthy trek from the car in the height of summer, arriving at your destination covered in sweat and semi-asphyxiated by exhaust fumes – only to realise you’ve forgotten something in the glove box and need to make the journey all over again?

Our pedometers tell a sorry tale. Far from the recommended 10,000 steps a day, those of us confined to office jobs are lucky to clock half that. That aforementioned visit to Dubai Mall can be a saving grace – getting from one end to the other feels like it takes 250,000 steps – but it can be an expensive way to get your count up.

Even those of us who are used to zipping around tube stations, dashing to catch the bus on our daily commute, or taking long, leisurely walks in the countryside on the weekend, somehow become ensnared in the UAE’s car culture.

Because – truth be told – there are walks to be had, you just have to work a little harder seek them out. When I was training to climb Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago, I was forced to get out and walk the city. I discovered Gulf for Good, a Dubai-based not-for-profit that organises adventure challenges – trekking in Bhutan, hiking to Base Camp Everest, cycling across Vietnam, and the such like – in aid of children’s charities.

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To help challengers to prepare, G4G organises free to attend, open-to-all training sessions that include beach hikes from one end of Jumeirah to the other. We’d walk past the single-storey villas that sit by the shore in Umm Suqeim; an enormous, all-glass mansion that looks like a UFO has settled on the sand; and parks that have since been sliced in half to make way for the Dubai Canal. We would weave our way through the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour; march past the bronzed crowds on Kite Beach and see surfers make the most of the tiny swells next to the Burj Al Arab.

These days, if I’m looking to stretch my legs, I head up to Al Qudra Lakes, a desert oasis that is home to over 175 species of birds. For a fascinating stroll that facilitates people-watching, the Walk at JBR is always a good bet, as are the streets of Downtown Dubai. But if that all sounds like a bit too much effort, you should just get out and explore the streets of your own neighbourhood. You might be surprised at the things you discover and the people you meet.

At the very least, it’ll help lower your blood pressure.

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