x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fitness classes keep children active over the summer

Numerous gyms and health clubs offer classes specifically tailored for youngsters.

Deepali Dandekar, second from left, teaches yoga for children at Balance Wellness Centre in Dubai.
Deepali Dandekar, second from left, teaches yoga for children at Balance Wellness Centre in Dubai. "The lifestyle here means it is difficult to just go and run around outside and burn off energy," she says. Pawan Singh / The National

The shocking story that overweight children are undergoing liposuction surgery has reopened the debate about children's health in the UAE. Now, as schools empty out for summer, many children will hunker down indoors in a state of inactivity, further boosting the obesity statistics.

Yet there are alternatives for the holidays, since numerous gyms and health clubs offer classes and programmes specifically tailored for youngsters.

Abu Dhabi even has its own fitness studio dedicated to children in My First Gym, which opened in April.

Throughout the school holidays, My First Gym runs summer camps, where young people ages 3 to 10 are entertained with such activities as relay races, team building games and sports skills lessons.

Bianca Belghith, who founded the gym and helps runs the classes, says that while burning off some energy is necessary, it's also imperative that the youngsters enjoy themselves.

"It's all about working out but having fun at the same time," she says. "So all of our games are exercise games but making sure they're enjoying themselves. We want to motivate them rather than discourage them from exercise."

Such is the popularity of the camps that they are totally booked for the first five weeks of the summer holiday.

Belghit, who grew up in Jamaica and Miami, says she spent her evenings and holidays playing outside with her friends. This, however, is not always possible in the UAE.

"The heat means you can't go outside and play. But even if you could, since you don't have neighbourhoods you live in, it's difficult to go and play on the streets," she says.

"So once those kids come home from school, they're home. They're either playing on their iPads or watching TV, so they don't get the opportunity to interact with others."

From her experience as a teacher, she has seen the damaging effects summertime home confinement has on youngsters.

"I was a kindergarten teacher here in the UAE for three years, and after the holidays I could see how my old students had regressed during the summer," she says. "Some of them had put on weight, others had less motivation to go to school and do their work. They had become a little lazy during the summer."

Belghith adds: "So it's great to have camps like this that keep them busy, keep them social, keep them active and not just sitting at home watching TV or sleeping in late."

In Dubai, the Balance Wellness Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road has recently started yoga classes for children taught by Deepali Dandekar, who also says that school holidays prove challenging for youngsters' health.

"The lifestyle here means it is difficult to just go and run around outside and burn off energy. It's tough for them growing up over here."

She says that as well as improving fitness, her yoga lessons have other benefits.

"Yoga is not just an exercise. It is about relaxation as well. It helps them concentrate at school and can improve their classwork."

Meanwhile, Haddins Gym at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi has been running summer camps for a number of years. This year they have moved to the du Forum.

From July 8 until August 29, in the air-conditioned indoor space on Yas Island, youngsters can participate in sports such as basketball, football and athletics.

Haddins also will be operating its Youth Sports Academy, in which promising young athletes are given expert tuition in their chosen sports.

The gym's owner, Michael Haddin, urges parents to enrol their children in some kind of exercise programme throughout the summer.

"It's hugely important to have facilities like these [in the UAE], just to give kids access to these structured sports that you have in other countries during the summer holidays.

"A lot of parents still have to go to work during the summer, so without this kind of thing, kids are stuck at home all day. Even though it's really hot out there, there are ways your kids can do some active stuff."


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