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American sprinter and Olympian Michael Johnson speaking at a conference in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Samihah Zaman, Senior Reporter

Abu Dhabi: He may be an Olympic medallist, but retired American sprinter Michael Johnson never takes his fitness regimen lightly.

Addressing a conference in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Johnson urged others to make time every day for physical activity.

“As an adult with a busy, active and demanding lifestyle with a career, hobbies and other things I like to do, I am better when I am active. I am sharper mentally, and I have more energy through the day to take on meetings and travel. I am able to travel 15 hours from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi to jump right in, as opposed to being clobbered and needing two days to recover,” Johnson told Gulf News.

“There is also no one-size-fits-all regimen, and advocating for one actually allows people to use it as an excuse [for not being active]. It is time to let people find the solution that works for them,” he added.

Worrying lack of physical activity

Johnson was speaking on the sidelines of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress (ISPAH) 2022, a three-day meet that is gathering international health and fitness experts in a bid to promote physical activity.

According to experts at the meet, four of every five youngsters between the ages of five and 17 years are not meeting the required 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

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Find what fits

Johnson encouraged regulators, guardians and institutions to advocate for a range of fitness regimens and schedules so that people can find what works best for them.

“Some people may wake up early [to fit exercise into their day]. Others may choose a unique schedule that works for them,” he said.

Sports infrastructure

It is also a good idea to make a variety of fun physical activities available for children.

“When I was young, I wasn’t participating in sports competitions because I wanted to be a champion. There were a range of activities available, and they were fun because my friends were there. So I enjoyed sprinting, and also played basketball, football, soccer and tennis. It was only when I got older that I recognised the opportunities and began to focus on sprinting,” the retired athlete said.

He went on to win four Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships gold medals in the span of his career, and also formerly held the world and Olympic records in the 200m and 400m races.

Asked what can help countries like the UAE develop sports superstars, Johnson said accessible sports infrastructure is a key component.

“Developing a sport superstar isn’t going to happen in a day. It takes patience, and is a long-term process. Youth sports infrastructures can help identify talent early, and then talent development pathways and programmes can help nurture that talent,” Johnson advised.

‘Kudos to Abu Dhabi’

He recognised that the many countries faces certain challenges, like the absence of a culture of sports participation among youth, or a hot climate like in the UAE. But he commended the UAE for its efforts to encourage and promote a culture of physical fitness.

“It’s very, very important to help many communities that are struggling to help their communities get healthy and be active. Bringing so many people together who have a shared experience with this challenge is [a step in the right direction]. Hosting this event shows the UAE’s interest in community health, and its efforts to foster active lifestyles. So kudos to Abu Dhabi to hosting this event,” he said.

Daily fitness regimen

Abdulla Al Hamed, chairman at the Abu Dhabi health regulator, Department of Health, urged residents to make time in their daily schedules for exercise.

“It often comes down to time management. We manage to make time for our meals and our prayers, so we must add physical activity to our daily agenda,” he said.

Sport activities

The three-day conference will run until Wednesday, and see a number of international experts discuss how to combat a preference for sedentary lifestyles among residents.

A number of sport and fitness activities are also being offered alongside, including yoga sessions, Zumba classes, high-intensity exercise sessions, and football games.