How to Get Fit in Your New Home Abroad

The decision to relocate to another country has been exciting for you, but packing and deciding what to take—and not take—has not. Reluctantly you decided not to ship your elliptical machine or your rowing machine because of the weight and expense. But now you’re worried: without your fitness equipment, how will you stay in shape?

The good news is, unless you’re in a tiny hamlet, you’ll probably find a gym with reasonably contemporary equipment in your new town. But even if you don’t, there are better ways to help you stay fit, which may be even simpler and easier than the equipment you used back at home. The world of fitness has gone small, lightweight, portable, affordable, and convenient—perfect features for expats.

Here are a variety of ideas to help you get stronger and more limber in your new home:

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor Activities Overseas

Just by stepping outside, you’ll derive more benefits than if you exercise inside (like on that elliptical machine). A 2012 study of seniors by the National Institute of Health found that people who exercised outside worked out longer and more often than those exercising indoors. You’ll probably find yourself being outside more without thinking about it, since most expats gravitate to towns with warmer climates.

Walking

I’m sure your new home is an attractive place, or you wouldn’t have picked it. It probably offers scenic places to walk, whether they’re charming pedestrianized historic centers, tree-lined streets, beaches, or country roads. Walking is an excellent all-round baseline activity, which requires only a decent pair of tennis shoes or sandals.

Be an explorer and take advantage of the natural curiosity you have in a new environment. If you don’t have a car, you’re at an advantage. Use your feet to do errands, go shopping, or visit a café. And stay away from elevators and escalators.

To increase the benefits, try using walking poles (which are collapsible, and easy to pack). Or, every so often, ramp up your pace a few beats. If you’re fortunate enough to have a dog, just match its scampering pace. Dogs instinctively speed up for a while, then slow down to inspect some stray object, then they’re off again. This variation in speed is known technically as “interval training,” and it’s highly beneficial. Try it: walk very fast for 2 minutes, then at a moderate pace for one minute, then repeat.

Also, seek out inclines or stairs, which you may be able to find outside or in public-access buildings.

For added incentive, before leaving the U.S. invest in a $15-$20 pedometer from a drug store or online and aim for 10,000 steps.

Hiking

Near your new home may be hills, woods, marshes, beaches, and other natural landscape. Walking on dirt, sand (barefoot), and other outdoor surfaces delivers even more benefits because you’re on uneven ground, which forces your muscles to work harder. Many expat groups schedule regular hikes.

Cycling

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you may want to consider investing in a folding bike with 20” wheels. The advantage of a folding bike is it can fit into a bag the size of a suitcase, which travels free on international flights.

Swimming and water exercises

Swimming is a great low-impact exercise you can enjoy in lakes, the ocean, and swimming pools. Exercising in water is not limiting to swimming, though. You can jog underwater (without damaging your knees) and do jumping jacks and knee kicks, which are not only good for cardio but also therapeutic if you have arthritis. If you’ve moved to a beach or lake community, you’ll find you can probably join a kayaking or stand-up paddling group.

Strength and Conditioning

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates
©iStock.com/TARIKKIZILKAYA

These slow-motion exercises are so popular, you’ll likely find classes available by checking your local expat chat group or meetup. Costa Rica, for example, has become an increasingly popular yoga destination—for retreats, trainings, or simply taking classes while on vacation. Costa Rica is an ideal locale for yoga and wellness retreats due to the beauty and tranquility of its natural environment.

And remember—if you can’t find a class, you can follow free yoga classes online.

Bodyweight exercises

These are exercises that use your own body for leverage, like push-ups, where no equipment is needed. You can find a free bodyweight routine on The New York Times.

Be Opportunistic

Take advantage of what’s available. The physical environment holds all sorts of opportunities for exercise. Maybe you won’t climb a tree at your age (though you might), but look around for parks, swings, hills, walls, stairs, ramps, and inclines.

Use Props

Bring them with you, or buy them. I bought a 20-lb. kettlebell (looks like a bowling ball with a handle) in a sports equipment store in Leon, near my adopted town of Guanajuato, Mexico, and a yoga mat in the fitness section of our local supermercado. Other tools to consider buying might be inflatable stability balls and resistance bands.

Walking in Guanajuato
Although very hilly, Guanajuato is a walker’s paradise. ©iStock.com/0829kt

Practice NEAT (short for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)

This is an awkward phrase which refers to living lives the way our ancestors did—through natural physical activities. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that moving throughout the day was more powerful and effective than time-limited structured exercise. NEAT is ideal for expats because chances are good you have fewer conveniences and machines abroad than back home. Carry grocery bags out of the market rather than wheeling a shopping cart; hang clothes on the line instead of using a dryer; wash your dishes by hand.

You should have no trouble getting active in the company of other people if you want to. Browsing online, I found English-language groups in different countries that focused on a wide array of sports, including badminton, golf, pickle ball, running, hiking, yoga, dancing, paddle boarding, and more.

So, what’s stopping you? Time to get going! Or as they say in Spanish-speaking countries, Andele!

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