After making a big move to another country, keeping up a fitness routine can linger near the bottom of your priorities as an expat. Read on for expert advice for expats on how to stay healthy and fit while living abroad.
Moving to a new country can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but dealing with the stresses of a move and adjusting to a new culture can be overwhelming, not to mention the added pressures of juggling a demanding job and a family life. Kick-starting an exercise regime can be a fantastic way to not only improve your physical and mental health, but meet new people and help you discover your new home.
While gyms are easy to find in cities and towns all over the globe, they aren’t necessarily for everyone. Whether you’re a casual jogger, a weekend warrior or a competitive athlete, physical activity can provide a much-needed boost and transform the place you live into your fitness playground.
With the help of expat bloggers who’ve been there and done that, along with expert advice from a counselor specializing in expat issues and a personal trainer, we’ve curated some helpful tips to help you keep fit anywhere in the world. So lace up your trainers, warm-up, and get ready to explore your new country with our suggestions for ten ways to get fit in a new country.
1. Find your feet
With so much to think about after a big move, the beginning can be the most stressful period. “Keeping a healthy lifestyle can be challenging, even for people who aren’t expats, so it’s natural that it can be particularly tough if you’re settling in a new country,” say Agness and Cez, best friends who run fitness travel blog Fit Travelling alongside another travel blog, eTramping. “There are so many new things to adapt to: cuisine, culture, interactions and relationships, accommodation, climate and much more.”
Agness and Cez share their passion for keeping fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle while travelling, and write destination-based fitness guides to inspire and inform about ways of keeping fit in locations around the world.
“Once you arrive at your new destination and arrange your accommodation, legal documents, bills and work, you simply might not have the time or energy to work out and eat healthy at first,” they explain, and it’s OK not to expect too much of yourself when you first get your bearings.
“Many people often have a stressful time setting up everything, which requires much time and energy. It’s a new environment, so give yourself time to work out what’s best for your situation and establish a healthy routine.”
2. Establish your routine
Moving to a new country inevitably brings a big change in your usual routines. Take advantage of the transition, as this time can actually be a perfect opportunity to turn a new leaf and implement healthier habits through a fitness routine alongside your new lifestyle. “Create a daily routine that will help you become your personal best,” says Vivian Chiona, founder and director of Expat Nest, which provides emotional support to expat fitness tips for travelers and their families through online counselling services. “Exercise will boost your self-confidence in multiple ways: you will feel better in your skin and gain a ‘can-do’ attitude by challenging yourself to sweat a little more every day. Exercise can also help to sharpen your memory; indeed, a healthy mind resides in a healthy body.”
As a bi-cultural and multilingual expat herself, Vivian created Expat Nest’s e-counselling service as a way of offering counselling without borders to expats globally. “While going for a walk once a week is much better for your body and mind than not going for one at all, for most optimal outcomes to result, physical activity should be regular,” Vivian says. “It can be hard to break out of our cycle of habits, but try to think of ways to exercise that bring you joy. Do you enjoy spending time with your dog, or love chatting away with friends? Try to incorporate these elements into your routine. Do what works for you personally.”
3. Get social
“Finding a new skill or hobby to take up, whether it’s a sport, language or art, can offer you a sense of achievement and can boost your confidence,” says Vivian. “Join dancing classes or (re)start a hobby. It helps you build social networks and is a fun way to get to know people.”
Getting involved in organised or informal sports and fitness groups can be a great way to meet like-minded people in a new place, while also improving your health. Meetup.com is a free and easy way to find sociable get-togethers based around a diverse range of interest categories, including sports and well-being. So if you’re looking for some hiking buddies, yoga classes or a kick-around, browse the local listed events or create one yourself on Meetup.com.
4. Fitness for free
“If you think you need a gym to stay fit, you’re wrong,” say self-proclaimed fitness and travel enthusiasts Agness and Cez. “There are countless ways to keep fit outside of a gym. For example, think about starting a body-weight training routine, which has the benefit of saving you a lot of time and money.”
Governments and local authorities in many countries are finding different and new ways to promote easily-accessible fitness to its residents. One of the most widespread and successful ideas has been the 4,100 Calisthenics outdoor workout spots which have been installed in parks, inner-cities, green spaces and beaches across the globe.
From full outdoor cardio equipment to pull-up bars and parallel bars, outdoor gyms and Calisthenics spots are a free way to exercise 24/7. You can easily search for workout spots by specific equipment or by location on their website.
5. Earn your rewards
It can be tough to stick to a healthy routine, particularly if you are an expat in a city with tempting restaurants and nightlife around every corner. “We can be enticed by it all,” says Omar Al Duri, an award-winning personal trainer, football coach and nutritionist in the United Arab Emirates.
“Although striking the right balance is important,” he adds. Having helped Ghana’s under-20 national football team reach the Youth World Cup and advocating for healthier school lunches with his passion for children’s nutrition, the British native has worked with communities, athletes and celebrities around the world.
Omar advises using foodie treats in a positive way as your motivation to work towards, however you choose to exercise, ensuring you feel good and guilt-free about your little indulgences. “Map out your week ahead so that you can earn the treat,” he suggests. “Whether that’s a special outing or a cheat meal you’re really craving.”
6. Take care of you
Self-care is vital through stressful periods, and Vivian advises you not to forget to take care of yourself and your vital needs. “Try to make your daily activity choices carefully, as they can have a great impact on the way you feel physically and emotionally,” she says. “It is really important to try and keep a balance in your sleep and nutrition when moving to a new country. Try to meditate, or try a breathing exercise after a workout session.”
Agness and Cez add: “The life of an expat can be pretty challenging at the beginning, but try to keep your mindset positive and use organisation as a tool. When cooking, for example, prepare healthy meals you want to eat in advance for maximum efficiency, freeing up time to establish your new fitness routine throughout the week.”
7. Join in
“To lead a healthy lifestyle where you can reach your potential, aim to develop discipline and stay motivated until you achieve your goals,” say Agness and Cez. “That goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle as it will lead to higher energy levels, which will keep you motivated and feeling more positive.”
A good goal to aim for is to participate in regular fitness events such as parkrun, which are free weekly 5k runs in unique locations all over the world. The local volunteer-organised aspect means you’ll feel part of the community in no time, and get to know people while you exercise.
After registering once, you can run in any parkrun event across the world, making it perfect for frequent travelers. Keep adding up your runs from different events in order to reach milestones, and when you’ve completed each run, track your progress on the app or website to see your position compared to other runners, your exact time and other data. Spark some friendly competition as well as working on improving your personal best every time you run.
“Joining communities is now easy to do once you find something that interests you,” adds Omar. “There are some really cool teachers and instructors all over the world who are truly passionate about what they do. They encourage and motivate people to get active and have fun. Take advantage of any good weather and get out!”
8. Explore feet first
It’s been said that walking is the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise. A hike in the fresh air can boost your mood and give you a good workout, as well as giving you an opportunity to explore your expat country. Maybe you’re surrounded by interesting landscapes, beautiful spaces or great walks which you haven’t yet discovered.
Walking is also an entirely versatile exercise, meaning you can tailor your hikes, strolls or power-walks to exactly the level or time that suits you, and work your way to harder trails gradually. “Physical health can boost mental well-being and vice versa,” says Vivian. “When you achieve an improvement in physical health, then you have a positive influence on your mental well-being too.” So find a trail to suit your level and grab your walking boots.
9. Pedal push
Getting around by bicycle is a healthier alternative to the daily commute, and is fast becoming more recognized by local authorities as an active and cost-effective method of inner-city travel for residents.
More and more government-funded bike-sharing schemes are popping up in cities globally, and chances are that if you live in a big city, there’ll be an efficient scheme for renting bikes near you.
London, Paris, Barcelona, Shanghai and New York City are just a few cities in which you can easily pick up and drop off one of thousands of bikes at different bicycle stations, with some cities even offering free time slots as an incentive.
10. Talk about it
In addition to the significant physical health benefits, adopting a physical activity routine can positively impact your mental well-being, reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress through inducing chemical chain reactions in your brain and body. The sudden loss of a support system, loneliness and culture shock can enhance the feelings of isolation that many expats experience, regardless of where they have relocated from or to. Out of the 300 million people around the world who suffer from depression (World Health Organisation), a study has shown that expats are over twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population.
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself and feel like you need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to seek further help. Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself: adjusting to a new life can be difficult. “When you keep your mind in a good shape, then you will also feel the need to improve your physical state,” says Vivian. Although she warns: “There may be challenges in accessing support, for example language barriers, cultural differences and lack of specialized mental health services for internationals, but see what options are being offered in your local community and online. Of course nowadays, with online counselling, these barriers are easily overcome – that’s why we love what we do and can help people all over the globe.”
“In counselling, we help clients learn how to manage their emotions,” she says. “We offer them a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings so they find solutions that are right for them so they can move forward.” If you’d prefer to speak to someone face to face, the international therapist directory is an online directory of suitably qualified and experienced therapists in different countries, so no matter where you are in the world, there’s always someone to talk to.
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