So you’ve finally mustered up the discipline to take a daily jog around the block. It’s a sweat-fest, but it’s free and according to Marin Hamid, freelance personal trainer, better at burning the old calories than slogging it out on the treadmill. But what kind of air are you sucking down on these calorie-burning jaunts? Is that thick fog hanging over the UAE really just a mass of H20, gathering in an innocent cloud?
Stumped by the question, we asked Mel Peffers, air-quality programme manager at Environmental Defense (environmentaldefense.org) to get the scoop on the air in the various outdoor workout spots across the UAE – and what to do to maximise the good-for-you part of going for a run.
What you’re inhaling
Cars and trucks (especially the old ones trundling about Al Quoz) put out fumes that contain particles that irritate your lungs: this makes you cough and can lead to asthma or other respiratory ailments. Some of the smallest pollutants, called ultrafines, have been found to cause cancer and heart problems.
Engines also release nitrogen oxides, which interact with sunlight to create ozone, a serious lung irritant (also known as smog). ‘Inhaling ozone is kind of like getting a sunburn on the inside of your lungs,’ Peffers explains, which, over time, can make them brittle and weak.
When to run
Noting the most congested areas in Dubai isn’t rocket science: Sheikh Zayed Road, Karama, Bur Dubai and Al Quoz are all stacked with cars, especially during the evening rush hour. So Peffers urges you to consider a quick jaunt to Safa Park, the Open Beach or Zabeel Park, to reduce the inhalation of the aforementioned nasties.
‘Since ozone forms in sunlight,’ she says, ‘the very worst time of the day to run is between 5 and 6pm,’ when ozone molecules have had maximum time to form and minimum time to disperse. Per Peffers: ‘The best time to work out is before morning rush hour, at 7 or 8am.’
So, if you can hack the military pace, Bootcamp’s (www.physicaladvantage.com) 6am kick-off is the perfect slot for a clean work out. Failing that, Peffers says 9pm comes in a close second for anyone who can’t bear the thought of an early start.
Here’s a reason to embrace the launch of Salik road toll: ‘An idling car puts out three times the pollution of a moving vehicle,’ Peffers explains. If you must run near a road, make it one with traffic that flows. Somewhere like Jumeirah Beach Road is a good option, Peffers says, because it’s next to a less congested road and the sea is only a few metres away, so all the lung-clogging particles are blown away.
Pollutants are especially harmful within 500 feet of the source of their emission (though they are concentrated up to 1,500 feet away). Though Peffers concedes ‘it’s almost impossible in Dubai,’ she recommends putting as much space between you and the cars as possible. If there’s a beach running next to the road, run there – irrespective of how hard it is to slog through the sand. ‘You’ll get more out of your workout if you simply put yourself in a cleaner zone,’ she notes.
According to Peffers, ‘Vegetation reduces particulate matter,’ so seek out paths where plants are between you and the cars. If you can smell pollution in the air, you’ll be breathing it and over time that’s going to cause some significant damage. Find the sweet smell of flora and fauna filling your nostrils, on the other hand, and it’s likely that the air is much cleaner and you’ll be able to work out for longer. ‘Often we think we’re more unfit than we actually are,’ Peffers notes, ‘when it’s just the thick air that’s slowing you down.’
Al Hamriya Park
Al Hamriyah may be a small park, with children’s play area and enough room for a bit of sprint training, but not ideal for longer runs
Open: 8am-10pm daily, Sat-Wed: ladies and children only Tel: (04) 269 2954
Al Wasl Park
A small family park with children’s play areas and plenty of shaded seating. If you like a bit of turf under foot, Al Wasl allows running on the grass.
Open: 8am-11pm daily, 8am-11.30 on Thu/Fri, Wed: only ladies Tel: (04) 344 0680
This is one of the best parks in Dubai. Among botanical gardens, fishing piers and jogging tracks, there’s a maze of small paths giving it a hint of Central Park.
Open: 8am-11pm daily, Wed for ladies and children only Tel: (04) 336 7633
Jumeirah Beach Park
If you go early (8am) then you’ll miss the hordes, but any later and expect a full audience as you slog it out on the beach.
Open: 8am-10.30pm daily, Thu-Fri until 11pm, Sat for children and ladies only Tel: (04) 349 2555
The view rocks: There’s faux Dutch windmills, English Tudor cottages and Thai stilt dwellings knocking about. The only problem is that it’s 9km outside of Dubai, so one for the weekend.
Open: 8:30am-10:30pm, sat to wed. Thu-Fri and public holidays, 8.30am-11pm Tel: (04) 288 3624
It is the best spot for a jog and the race track is on the outside of the park, so you can start running any time.
Open: 8am-11pm daily, Tue for ladies and children only Tel: (04) 349 2111
Umm Suqeim Park
For anyone in the Marina, this is a great spot to feel the burn in the great outdoors.
Open: 8am-11pm from Sat to Wed. From 8am-11.30pm other days Tel: (04) 348 4554