The inside story of Dubai’s latest obsession

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In winter, the heat is bearable, but it’s still more comfortable to cycle at night. As hazy wisps of sunset fade like glowing embers, monstrous dunes loom larger, and the sky erupts with stars. Once the yellow jerseys have whizzed past, all I can hear are my wheels spinning and the rush of air as I accelerate. 

In a city constructed around convenience, where everyone drives from A to B, X, Y and Z, people have become lazy, complains a personal trainer at the One&Only Royal Mirage. “We have a high incidence of diabetes in the UAE,” he says, putting me through an extreme circuit of jumps and lunges in the hotel’s fitness centre. “Covid has been something of a wake-up call to get healthy and be fit.”

Even before the virus struck, however, Emiratis were working up a sweat. Every November, the 30×30 Dubai Fitness Challenge encourages residents to do 30 minutes of daily exercise for 30 days, with free workouts, races and events held city-wide. 

Shaping up to be a healthy role model, the crown prince, a keen sportsman and adventurer, nicknamed Fazza, has amassed 12.8 million followers on Instagram, where he is pictured boxing, skydiving and ­training on a treadmill with Cristiano Ronaldo – one of several high-profile footballers and athletes who come to use the Emirate’s world-class facilities.

But going to the gym isn’t only about winning competitions. Following a trend set by coastal cities such as Miami and Rio, a body-conscious culture revolves around the beach. 

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