With most residents spending most of the summer days indoors, it is time to look at the health hazards present between the walls.
Summer in the UAE is not a time for outside leisure. In fact, anything that needs to be done outside is frantically avoided by anyone who knows better. Luckily facilities are designed to make life easy for us; we do not really need to go outside. Most of us spend most of the summer months between the air-conditioned walls of anywhere that is not outside.
True, outside temperatures exceeding 40C° cannot possibly be good to our health. Dehydration, sunburn or heat stroke are some of the hazards lurking at us from the other side of the wall. But health hazards are present within these walls too. Emirates 24/7 has listed five of these hazards.
Weak or brittle bones
It may not occur easily, but our bones need sun. Actually, our bones need Vitamin D, which can be obtained from the sun. “Most Vitamin D comes from skin exposure to sunshine. Even 15 minutes exposure to the arms or legs 2-3 times per week should provide enough natural Vitamin D for most people,” explains Dr. Chris Whately, Medical Director of Medcare Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital, Dubai.
Together with calcium, Vitamin D makes up for the prime ingredients to build strong bones, explains the orthopaedic. “The problem in the UAE is that people are often covered, and even those who do not cover up spend very little time in the sun with the result that up to 75 per cent of the population (of all nationalities) are Vitamin D deficient.”
Weak or brittle bones –a condition called osteoporosis- are the result, which can commonly lead to fractures. Vitamin D deficiency can be compromised with fortified milk and weight bearing exercise.
Light makes people happy, they say. In countries with less sunlight exposure depression has been found more profound, and exposure to artificial light is by some considered an effective anti-depression treatment. What is it we like so much about sunlight? Or what do we dislike about the lack of it?
Also here Vitamin D plays a role. “With less Vitamin D your physical health suffers. Maybe you experience minor aches, pains and fatigue,” explains says Justin Thomas, psychologist and Assistant Professor at Zayed University Abu Dhabi.
However, this does not necessarily lead to depression. But the combination of low physical activity with social withdrawal can increase the symptoms of depression, thinks Justin.
“A depressed person stays home and is physically inactive because he feels low. Psychical suffering lowers your mood further and perhaps you further withdraw from the world; the vicious cycle self -perpetuates.”
Coupled with low physical activity comes obesity, something that does not make anybody happy. Off course, physical activity does not necessarily take place outside; gyms and fitness clubs are abound and many residential buildings have a built-in gym, free of charge. But how likely are you to really visit that gym when there is a couch, TV or bed around?
Within the comfortable space of your own walls there could be numerous temptations too. The kitchen is nearby, the fridge is full; before you know it you have snuck up the sweet corner for some treats. If not, delivery service is only one phone call away. Less movement, more food.
There is nothing wrong with comfort from time to time. But being out and on the move does keep you away from the self-destructive behavior that we know so well when nobody else is there to spot it. Besides that, walking a couple of miles every day alone can lead to surprising weight loss.
Luckily not everybody is prone to this health hazard. But for a great part of the UAE population, respiratory problems are a daily challenge. In their case, the air conditioner might not be their best friend.
"It is not the air conditioner itself," explains Dr. Michael Loubser, Immunology, Asthma & Allergy specialist at Infinity Health Clinic. "It is the fact that many air conditioners are not properly maintained. Maintenance is very important, because allergens can easily be transported by this device."
Dust, mould and fungus are the main allergens that are found in many ACs and thereby find an easy gateway through to the indoors. “In the UAE 90% of the people with inhalant allergies suffer from dust mite,” says Michael. As a result people often experience their respiratory problems increased once they moved to the UAE. A clean and well-maintained AC would be the solution.
It is not scientifically proven, but there are theories that suggest increased myopia –or nearsightedness when less time is spent outside.
One theory suggests that sunlight is good for the eyes. “Exposure to sunlight increases dopamine, the chemical that in turn prevents the eye from growing. Eye growth increases myopia,” explains Saleem Moopen, ophthalmologist at DM Healthcare.
Another theory is based on the knowledge that the eye needs rest. “The eye rests when looking into a far distance,” Saleem explains. “The muscles that are present in the eye need this rest, just as the muscles in our body.”
Due to the scarce possibility of far sight in skyscraper cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, residents of these cities are suggested to face increased myopia, Saleem tells. However, the direct link in both theories is not scientifically proven at this point.
“Even though there is no harm to spend some time in the park, for example. Ideally the eye requires 10-14 hours of sunlight exposure. This is not difficult to do.”