For a healthier society, the UAE needs to invest in affordable neighbourhood sports facilities and to make sure women have their share of access.
Women need more opportunities to exercise and keep fit
Why is it so difficult for women in the UAE to exercise throughout the year? This country is always at the forefront in empowering women and providing equal opportunities.
But to improve women's health we need to find ways to encourage women to take up sport, on a regular basis, and provide places for them to do so.
Every Wednesday evening the Yas Marina Circuit is open to women, for Dh30 per person. At this "GoYas" night women can walk, run or cycle around the circuit. Pilates, Box Fit and Zumba classes are also available for an additional Dh50. The event is very popular; about 85 per cent of participants are Emirati.
The success of GoYas, and of certain one-time fitness events, shows that UAE women have determination, drive and time, and are eager to take care of their health, fitness and appearance. We must find ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle throughout the week and year.
The International Diabetes Federation report that almost 19 per cent of Emiratis live with diabetes, a disease associated with poor lifestyle choices. Diet and exercise are good weapons against diabetes, yet the UAE has a real lack of affordable facilities, particularly for women and children.
Some work is being done to raise awareness about lifestyle and health, but now we must create more opportunities for fitness, and here mothers are vital. When a mother exercises regularly, it encourages a healthy lifestyle for her entire family. The only exercise most school-age girls in the UAE get, during the week, is a 45-minute physical education class.
It is well-established that exercise is good for weight control, can improve health, and helps to manage stress and mood. Sport, in particular, has additional benefits for women: it allows them to experience teamwork, teaches commitment, and can give a sense of achievement - things that cannot be achieved by spending hours at a spa, or thousands of dirhams on cosmetics.
Beyond team activities, Abu Dhabi does have some places for walking and running - along the Corniche, at Mushrif Park and elsewhere. But walking and running are not the most enjoyable activities and these outdoor areas are not suitable for exercise in the hot weather. There are also health clubs, mainly at hotels and malls, but most of them are expensive.
To encourage lifestyle change, we must as a society make sports facilities accessible. We need indoor sports places where women and girls can play a variety of sports such as basketball, netball, tennis and squash. At the moment, we are not giving females the opportunity to find out what they enjoy.
If we expect women to exercise we must provide a choice of sports including women-only swimming pools and beaches.
Abu Dhabi is still growing as a vibrant, luxurious, internationally known city, and fitness facilities must be part of that growth. Places for sport make our lives more enjoyable, and are needed in a society where, for some women, the only regular physical activity may be walking around a shopping mall. Many would love to become more active and have the full support of their family members.
We can make the UAE known for having a healthy, active population, rather than for the world's second highest rate of diabetes.
Those of us who are concerned with this issue are eagerly awaiting details of the 40 community centres that have been announced for Abu Dhabi, to be built by 2016. These centres, in residential areas, promise to be convenient. We hope that they will offer women-only, indoor facilities for a variety of sports activities at a reasonable price.
Our mothers were more physically active than we are. Emirati women today work mainly in offices if they work, and drive almost everywhere. Many have help with housework, gardening and errands.
And it seems likely that future generations of girls will become even less active than their mothers. This means demands on our health services will increase. We would be wise to invest now in affordable neighbourhood sports facilities and to make sure women have their share of access: that is better than hospitals as a way to keep our families in good health.
Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and MBA graduate
On Twitter: @rm_ahbabi