Expat fitness: 7 tips for finding time to exercise as an expat

April 30, 2019

Not having enough time is a common reason people give for not exercising. For many expats, this may be the case as heavy workloads and long hours mean free time is at a premium.

Expats face other unique challenges when it comes to developing a fitness routine. Finding time to exercise can be particularly difficult if you have just started an assignment or moved country. Adapting to the change in surroundings, starting a new role and building new relationships is mentally and physically challenging. Add to that factors that are unique to expats like:

Climate: moving from a temperate climate to a hot or cold climate making your morning run much less appealing.

Culture: exercising in public may not be part of the culture in your expat destination. Or the need for appropriate attire may make exercising more difficult.

Food: a change in food can impact your energy levels.

Or like many of us, maybe your new year's resolution to exercise more has just fallen by the wayside.

The benefits of regular physical activity cannot be overstated. According to the Mayo Clinic making exercise part of your daily routine will help:

  • Manage your weight
  • Improve medical conditions
  • Reduce expat stress
  • Improve sleep quality

Not making the time to look after our physical health is already having an impact on the world’s population. Statistics from the World Health Organisation show the level of obesity globally has tripled since 1976. Obesity is linked to a number of other serious illnesses including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some common cancers.

Although your time may be limited there is lots you can do to incorporate an exercise routine into your life. Some tips for expats are:

With a busy work schedule it is common to end up staying late at work, so exercising before you get there ticks it off for the day. Having accomplished something before your work day starts puts you in a positive frame of mind for the day ahead. Exercise releases endorphins which will improve your mental health and enable you to better handle your work day.
This is particularly useful if weather or culture in your expatriate base prevent you from exercising. You don’t need much room to exercise (the area of a yoga mat) or expensive equipment. There are lots of exercise routines that only use your body weight.
There is a misconception that the longer we spend exercising the better it is. This is not always the case, it is the intensity of exercise that matters most. The World Health Organisation recommends 75 minutes of high intensity exercise per week. That’s only five 15 minute sessions across seven days. There are many free High Intensity Interval Workouts (HIIT) available on YouTube to follow. Just search HIIT and the level you are looking for (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and you should find lots of options.
Every movement you make is an opportunity to exercise, simple changes like taking the stairs rather than the elevator at work will help. If possible get off the train or bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way to work. If working out in the morning is too much of a struggle try to leave the office at lunch for a walk, swim or short exercise class. It will break up your day and you will be more productive in the afternoon.
Consider investing in a fitness tracker to monitor your movement. You might be surprised how much or little you actually move throughout the day. Having this data will allow you to make changes where you need to.
Although this may be more of a time commitment, joining a club or organisation is beneficial for expats in two ways. It provides a regular time and place for exercise in your life. It is also a fantastic way to build friendships away from work and beat expat loneliness.

Finally the only way to ensure your expat fitness is to make yourself accountable. There are some easy ways to help you stay on the path to fitness including:

  • Don’t expect too much of yourself. If you plan to exercise every day, you are setting yourself up for failure on a day you may be too tired or have other things to focus on. Instead plan an exercise regime you can stick to.
  • Make your workout fun: choose a workout that you love. If running bores you try swimming or a team sport as a way to get the benefits of exercise without feeling it is a chore.
  • Set a goal: having a goal in mind will bring a greater significance to your workout. How hard would you train if you knew you were entered in a sprint triathlon in 6 months time? Having something to focus on, whether it’s an event or an outfit you want to wear is great motivation for those days where you could just as easily hit the snooze button.
Looking after your health and fitness as an expat shouldn’t stop at exercise. Protect yourself if you become ill or injured by ensuring you have international health insurance while you are working abroad.