Saudi sports body encourages active lifestyle during pandemic

Many lack of awareness about exercise’s physical, mental and social benefits, says Fahad Saud Fahad Al-Sahli. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 07 October 2020

Saudi sports body encourages active lifestyle during pandemic

  • Saudi Sports for All Federation is working hard to help people improve their physical and mental wellbeing in these challenging times

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Sports for All Federation (SFA) has been keeping busy during these challenging and uncertain times expanding its range of nationwide health initiatives. The underlying message is clear: keep active if you want to live a long and healthy life.

In recent months the federation has launched a wide range of wellness and health programs to encourage people of all ages and fitness levels to get and stay active during the COVID-19 lockdown, Ramadan and Saudi National Day celebrations. It is also working to raise awareness about the importance of incorporating physical activity into daily life, and the long term, positive effects this can have not only on physical wellbeing but also mental health.

“One of the main reasons people put off exercising or don’t prioritize planning time to exercise into their busy schedules is a lack of awareness about exercise’s physical, mental and social benefits,” said Fahad Saud Fahad Al-Sahli, one of SFA’s official Baytak Nadeek (your home, your gym) trainers. The health and wellness advocate is also a Taekwondo second Dan coach, a Spartan Global Ambassador, and a keen runner who has won prizes for obstacle racing at home and abroad.

“When people become aware of the benefits of physical activity — big or small — they will incorporate it into their schedules. It will become an essential part of their day,” he added.

During a year dominated by the pandemic, many people in the Kingdom have taken up some form of physical activity, motivated by the long months of lockdowns to make essential lifestyle changes.

They created impromptu gyms, switched to healthier eating habits and took advantage of the many free classes offered by the SFA and established trainers in the Kingdom and beyond. These lifestyle changes have had positive effects in these tough times, with many people inspired to monitor their progress and develop a more optimistic and proactive approach to their future health.

“This year has been a whirlwind but I wanted to keep my promise to myself to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Ruaa Amin, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom of two young daughters. “Seeing and hearing of the many initiatives Saudi Arabia has these days, from trainers and the SFA too, has kept me going, as well as the shift in the everyday conversation among friends to try this new workout or that new class, and even healthy take-out options.

“My youngest even reminds me of our daily 20-minute yoga sessions as she likes to lay down and breathe with me — it gets her out of her nap time.”

For anyone who is not prioritizing fitness but wants to start, Al-Sahli advises that the first step is to decide the main motivation — is the aim to improve overall health, approach it as a hobby that will develop a skill set, or improve existing skills for professional reasons?

“Starting a fitness journey doesn’t have to be complicated,” he said. “There is enough research that says shorter workouts are beneficial — the key is to do them frequently. So, for anyone short of time, the simplest thing to do is walk. Walking can be done anywhere, any time and can be done in short bursts that will add up to measurable health benefits.”

Yoga, aerobics, CrossFit, strength training and swimming are just a few of the other activities that are available, many of which can be done in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace, Al-Sahli said.

Adopting and maintaining a more active lifestyle, and building strength gradually, offers great benefits that can make a huge difference to physical and mental wellbeing, he added.

Experimental cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

Gebran Al-Maliki, owner of a cocoa plantation, says introducing cocoa will help reshape the agriculture sector. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 01 December 2020

Experimental cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabia provides an environment conducive to the shrub’s growth, says expert

MAKKAH: In an unprecedented experience for the Kingdom, a harvest season of more than 200 cocoa shrubs began this year in Jazan following several years of planting the Filipino seedlings.

The foreign plant is a new experiment for the Kingdom as it plans on testing out the long-term success of planting the favored sweet treat.

Specialists in the region pointed out that the cocoa shrub resembles the famous coffee shrub found in the south region of the Kingdom, where a number of farmers have already begun to evaluate the experience and continue cultivating land to make room for more, while others were not so successful.

The supervisor of the Mountain Areas Development and Reconstruction Authority in Jazan, Eng. Bandar Al-Fifi, said: “The cocoa shrub is a tropical or subtropical shrub and is native to South America and East Asia. It was presented to the Mountain Regions Development and Reconstruction Authority a few years back, specifically to the agricultural research station.”


• The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops.

• Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

He added: “The cultivation process was carried out six years ago by bringing seeds and seedlings from the Philippines. The seeds were cultivated and seedlings were distributed to some interested farmers in the region.

“We in the station’s field have cocoa, banana, mango and guava trees, as well as many tropical and subtropical trees. The field is being used as a guarantor of seeds, in addition to conducting tests and real experiments in an area of 200 meters, in particular on 15 cocoa plants and the first cocoa shrub in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that it was difficult at first to encourage farmers to invest in the plant, as many were hesitant to introduce a plant not indigenous to the region in order to facilitate the establishment of manufacturing factories and grow a local market.

Al-Fifi said that in Ethiopia, companies buy crops from farmers and then start an integrated industrial process of sorting, cleaning, drying and roasting, because to complete the whole process is not economically viable for farmers alone.

“If every farmer owns 30 cocoa shrubs, this will be an additional source of income for their future,” he added.

The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area. Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

“In addition to the fact that the temperature gap between small and mature shrubs is not big, due to our proximity to the equator, Saudi Arabia is located below the tropical line, which creates environmental conditions that help the shrub grow,” said Al-Fifi.

Gebran Al-Maliki, one of the owners of a cocoa plantation in Jazan, told Arab News: “Adding cocoa to the Kingdom’s agricultural field is one of the innovative things in Saudi Arabia and it began to give good results that would broadly stimulate the development process, provide an agricultural model that can be trusted and improve experience in a country that supports its farmers and provides them with all the required capabilities.”

He received seeds and seedlings by the end of 2016 as an experiment in which everyone was granted support. “Some wanted to give this new experience a try, because it is similar to the coffee plant. It is an ordinary shrub, just like fruit and citrus trees, but it is a drought-tolerant shrub that is watered once a week.”

To successfully cultivate the fruit, Al-Maliki said that shrubs need shade when first planted in the ground as they are “quite finicky,” but that with the proper care and attention, a tree will flower at about three to four years of age and can grow up to two meters in height.

With up to 400 seeds, the product testing began on his farm after just four years.

“You can find 30 to 50 seeds inside a pod, which are later dried under the sun and ground to become a ready-to-use powder. Cocoa powder can be found in chocolate, oils and cosmetics, in addition to several other uses,” Al-Maliki said.

He said that the seed is very bitter and explained that the more bitter, the better the quality. He added that he has four shrubs, and what hindered the spreading process was waiting for the product quality test results, indicating that the fruit was tried and was found very successful.

The agricultural research station for the Development and Reconstruction of Agricultural Areas aim to reach 50 shrubs in the region to provide enough fruit to produce seeds and seedlings for farmers. Al-Fifi said that they aim to reach 400 seedlings per year that will be distributed, on top of seedlings grown by the region’s farmers themselves.