The Fitness Factor

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

PNL50 The opulent lifestyle in the Gulf has taken its toll on both citizens and expatriates alike. The abundance of wealth often translates into an overabundance of food, which is often just as greasy and artery clogging as it can be. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the State of Kuwait. Fast-food restaurants can be found on just about every corner in almost every city. Just like in the US, juicy hamburgers and crispy fried chicken with a side of fries are the most popular fare in Kuwait. And, just like in the US, most denizens of Kuwait are walking around with a couple of ‘spare tires’ on their frame. Heart disease and diabetes combined are just two of the major health problems already affecting an estimated 40% of the population. The situation looks grim as fast food chains, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and McDonald’s, continue to open branches all over the country beckoning even the most scrupulous eater to tuck into a caloric-filled dining extravaganza.

Thanks to a health awareness media campaign launched by the Kuwaiti government over the past couple of years, a vast majority of the public in Kuwait are wising up to the pitfalls of fast food, junk food and empty calories. As a result, a renewed interest in health and fitness can be seen all over Kuwait whether it is the guy doing squats on Gulf Road or the teenage girl brisk walking along the Souq Sharq marina complete with hijab and iPod securely in place. A new health industry is quietly emerging in Kuwait, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, old habits often die-hard in the land of sweltering summers and 24/7 air conditioning. ‘Sweat’ is a dirty word and most people cannot even conceive of the notion of engaging in activities that increase it.

The fitness revolution in Kuwait, however, will not be stalled as it is a growing industry with an eager customer base. These days, fitness centers and weight-lifting gyms are going up just as quickly as the fast food restaurants are. A typical gym in Kuwait mirrors the gyms in the West with top-notch equipment and instructors. The greatest difference is that the bulk of gyms are segregated between the sexes, and never the twain shall meet. The Islamic requirement that forbids free mixing between men and women comes into play at the majority of gyms. Ironically, both the sexes in Kuwait seem to support the stipulation as each prefer privacy as they sweat it out on exercise machines.  A basic gym membership in Kuwait runs between $100-$300 a month depending on the exclusivity of the facility and location.

Both men and women in Kuwait have their preferences when it comes to working out. For Kuwaiti women, the hottest moves perpetrated by Hollywood celebrities are what get their sweat glands flowing. Yoga and Pilates are the most popular choices for women in Kuwait with Pilates instructors paying house calls to wealthy clients. For the men, bodybuilding is the most popular fitness activity. Unfortunately, some men have taken the misguided path to anabolic steroids (available on the black market) to bulk up fast. However, the vast majority of men in Kuwait are going the natural route by allowing their bodies to build mass through weight repetitions.

A side effect of the fitness culture taking root in Kuwait can also be seen in some parts of the food industry. Dieting companies, similar to Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, are sprouting up like desert daisies. One such company is called ‘Health Stop’. They delivery freshly prepared low fat meals right to your doorstep each day. Another is called ‘Diet Care’ and they deliver healthy groceries right to your door complete with recipes for preparing the foods.  In addition, American GNC vitamin and health stores are also letting their presence be known in Kuwait offering customers vitamins, supplements and protein powders.


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