This month, the United Arab Emirates' daily newspaper The National challenged readers to start walking with an aptly titled campaign, #StartWalking.
Participants can register for the challenge and compare their personal stats against others who take on the challenge. Only a fitness tracker such as Fitbit, Jawbone, Withings or Misfit is required to join the competition.
Participants have signed-up and even started sharing their personal stats via social media. That's a little beyond even the humble brag.
Shopping malls have become a popular spaces for walking in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, especially in the summer months when the high temperatures make outdoor activity not only difficult, but potentially dangerous. Shopping malls have even offered specific mall walking events and times when the activity is promoted.
"Walking in the mall has helped me control my weight as you end up taking many steps. I have gained very little weight in the past few years," Egyptian Sally Mohsen Antoun told The National .
American Nicole Brady also told the National, "Not only is mall walking healthy but it’s something I wouldn’t have done back in the United States. One reason it works so well here is because there are so many malls to walk in. My husband and I go out every other day to a mall and walk there after he comes home.”
Some people have even taken mall walking to the next level. Wellness coach Joullen Rousse told The National that she power walks in the mall:
“I have not seen anyone else power walking in any of the malls. Lately, I have begun to power walk and twist my torso, although I get many strange looks.”
Although the goal of the #StartWalking challenge is to raise awareness and to encourage readers to be more active, some participants seem to have taken it a bit too seriously. Reports have circulated that some participants have actually hired others to walk for them.
Sure, the challenge enters participants into a drawing every time they lock-in 10,000 steps, but cheating? With the grand prize of 10,000 AED going to the participant with the most steps at the end of the month, perhaps the draw is just too much for some greedy competitors.
The National has reminded readers that whether walking outdoors or in the mall, the point is for them to walk, not for someone to walk for them.
Doctors agree that mall walking is a good way of getting exercise and participate in the challenge, especially since shopping malls in the United Arab Emirates provide such an extensive space to do so. Still, they caution that certain precautions should be considered to avoid injuries.
“I encourage people to go to the mall because that way you can exercise in all kinds of weather. But don’t run or jog there because the floor is slippery,” Dr. Maan Taba told The National.
“When walking on a hard surface, get a pair of shoes with slightly high heels and make sure they are not too flexible. I recommend a slightly hard sole."
Dr. Taba also cautioned against walking everyday, suggesting alternating days instead. He explained that he sees some walkers that are too enthusiastic starting out, leading them to later come in and complain about joint or muscle pain.
One doctor also pointed out that even though walking in shopping malls is positive, walking outside also provides exercisers with Vitamin D from the sun.
“Outdoor walking is better than indoors, especially because vitamin D deficiency is common in the UAE," said Dr. Shivananda Shetty K to The National.
Our advice? Start walking whether you registered for the campaign or not. Walk in the mall or walk outside. Just make sure to walk for yourself. Those calories won't burn unless you personally make the effort, no matter how much you pay someone else.