| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Mall fitness

Get your kids off the sofa and down to the mall this summer

© ITP Images

No, not for shopping, silly. We know fine well what a disaster that could be. But, if you can drag the lazy toe-rags out of bed early enough, an invigorating power walk would do them the world of good.

That’s what the Mall Walkers at the Mall of the Emirates have learned over the last three years. Initially the stomping ground of a few enthusiastic ladies, the club has gradually expanded through word of mouth and now boasts around 500 signed-up members, many of whom are kids.

This summer, as part of Dubai Summer Surprises, Mall of the Emirates and walk organisers Stride for Life are welcoming kids with open arms in the hope of prising them off their rear ends and getting them to join in with some family exercise.

The walks take place before the stores open and the crowds arrive, so it’s an early 8.15am meeting time at the information kiosk on the ground floor near the East Food Court (the Carrefour end). After signing in, it’s off upstairs for a few warm-up moves and stretches, before taking off around the mall’s first floor.

‘Remember to keep your strides small, walk from heel to toe and keep your elbows at 90 degrees, swinging from the shoulder,’ says a very energetic Deborah Dixon, of Stride for Life. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and you certainly feel a bit of a muppet the first time you do it, but we soon get into the swing of things, propelling ourselves along like a penguin on a sugar rush. It’s pretty physical stuff – as Time Out Kids discovers when we attempt to ask a question to eight-year-old Khalish Engelen, a first-time mall-walker. ‘How…are…you…feeling?,’ we gasp. ‘I…want…to…go…to…bed,’ is the puffed reply.

Indeed, one loop of the mall is equal to a kilometre, and mall walkers gradually build up to a maximum of three circuits, with the trainers occasionally timing individuals. Ambitious little tykes be warned: this isn’t a running contest – and you’ll wear yourself out far quicker than you expected. This, despite popular misconception, is not a club for chin-waggers where mouths are exercised more than any other part of the body. That said, chit-chat is positively encouraged. First of all, if you’re too pooped to talk, you’re probably overdoing it and, more importantly, exercising as part of a social group is a great way to keep motivated and get you to turn up in the first place. ‘This is a great experience for everyone, especially for my daughter.

If I hadn’t persuaded her to come today she would have slept until noon,’ says the mum we’re walking beside. Another plus point is the indoor nature of mall walking: as temperatures continue their steady ascent, opportunities for outdoor activity diminish directly in proportion to parents’ fuses. ‘Even after breakfast it’s too hot to go outside. It’s a real struggle to find other activities and he has so much energy,’ says Dewi Engelen, Khalish’s mum. ‘This is much better than watching TV or playing on the computer.’

There aren’t any expensive joining fees or long-term commitments like in many other kids’ summer activities. ‘This is easy and flexible. You just sign up, come any day you want to come, and it’s free,’ says Ita Hidma, a long-time mall walker whose son, eight-year-old Jonathan, has joined her today for the first time. ‘I was a bit bored on the first lap,’ he confesses, ‘but the second one was OK.’

It helps that Stride for Life has adopted the bribery and corruption school of parenting: the kids get a free T-shirt when they sign up and rewards and gift vouchers if they manage to clock milestones such as 20, 50 and 100km over the summer. Some keen beans, like the Zerelli sisters, Ines (12), Dana (10) and Mira (six), need no such encouragement. ‘They are the ones who insist we walk,’ says mum Hayet, who has clocked a whopping 700km since March last year. Innes adds, ‘It’s really fun and it keeps you fit. You walk in groups so you don’t feel left out and you get to chat with other people and compete with them.’

While children are always welcome over the school holidays, Dixon hopes the extra push of Dubai Summer Surprises will encourage more youngsters to give it a go. ‘We’re trying to get kids into the habit of exercising early. In this region, a lot of kids have grown up without exercise and sport, and it’s much harder to get into an exercise routine when you’re an adult. That’s why we want to start them early.’

Fuad Sharaf, vice president of Mall of the Emirates, agrees. ‘With statistics in the UAE showing that around 12 per cent of children are overweight and, of those, 22 per cent are susceptible to obesity, the kids’ mall-walking programme is an easy way for parents to ensure their children stay active and healthy during the long summer vacation.’

Interested? Contact Deborah Dixon at deborah@strideforlife.com or visit any customer service desk at Mall of the Emirates. Mall Walkers for Kids is free and runs every weekday until August 14. It is suitable for children aged six and above, accompanied by an adult.

By Karen Iley
Time Out Dubai,

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