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How to: (try to) stay healthy abroad

January 23, 2012

We’ve all seen it – the students that return home after spending a semester in Europe looking like puffed-up versions of themselves. But how do you balance living out this one-time opportunity of having arguably the best foods at your fingertips while not turning into a blimp? Healthy in College debunks common beliefs students have while studying abroad.

“People stare at you funny when you work out in Europe.”

Staying fit isn’t just a trend. There is a reason that the Olympics are international; every country knows the importance of athletics and fitness to the body. There are athletes in every city around the world; just how they practice their athletics may be different.

An Ironman competition in the South of France

Whether you are spending your semester Prague, Perugia or Paris, there is always a place you can jog. Go to the office of tourism and ask if there are any local parks to run, or if there are any running groups.  Double check the areas to avoid when running, and always run with a friend. If you know the area you are running in is safe, don’t be afraid to get lost for a little bit! The best way to find the hidden treasures of your temporary home is to lose yourself in it.

Joining an intramural athletic team is a great way to meet new people while staying in shape.  Although the language barrier may be intimidating, the language of sports is universal. Playing for a team will force you to mingle with locals and other international students alike, which will be an invaluable experience in itself.

“I’m only abroad once, I need to taste everything!”

No blames you that you can't resist this...

No one blames you that you can't resist this...

            When you return home, it will seem like it passed faster than the montage of Eat in Eat Pray Love, but spending three months abroad means forcing yourself to make 90 days of conscious health decisions. It is true that you will be on a trip of a lifetime, and tasting this delicious food comes with the territory. But remember, eating local delicacies is an experience, and abusing this makes it less of a special memory. Although portions tend to be smaller in Europe, try splitting carb and cream-heavy dishes with a friend.

The scent of fresh bread wafting up to your window each morning will be tempting, but daily baguettes are not a necessity. When you arrive, remind yourself you have three months to try everything; you do not need to stuff yourself silly everyday. Also remember: “carbs+dairy-exercise= 10 lb. weight gain in 8 weeks.”

“The gym is so expensive! I can’t join.”

            Gym memberships can be pricey both in America and abroad. Before you leave, talk to former participants in your program about gyms in your future home. Most international schools and study abroad programs offer student deals on short-term memberships at local gyms, so do your research before you arrive. Many gyms in cities with a high number of international students target these schools and are happy to provide information on their memberships. If you are lucky enough, some universities offer reimbursements for gym memberships while studying abroad.

A market in Italy

“If I want to eat healthy abroad, I will blow my budget.”
You will find that delicacies that you dream aboutpain au chocolat, focaccia, crêpes and kebabs- are usually the cheapest options. But just because McDonald’s is cheap and available on every corner in America doesn’t mean you need to eat it for every meal, right?

Take advantage of the open-air markets that are available in most cities across Europe. Fresh, locally grown produce is available for less than a euro at most of these markets, and if you have your own kitchen, take advantage of this and cook some meals with these ingredients. Adding fruits and vegetables into your diet to balance out the baguettes and pizza is key to keeping healthy while abroad. Remember: an apple typically costs less than a croissant, so when you start to notice hunger pains, go for the former.       

“I don’t have to work out, I do so much walking here.”

            In most circumstances, this is true. Walking can be a great way to stay in shape while abroad. Walking at 2.5 mph for an hour burns about 200 calories, and some students have to walk an hour just to get to their school.

But if you are a physically active person before leaving for abroad, cutting out higher-intensity workouts can have negative consequences on both your body and mind. For one, everyone has heard the phrase “you are just one workout away from a better mood.” There are times abroad when you can feel lonely and isolated in a country where you may not understand the language, or feel that you are judged for looking differently. Going for a run or bike ride can help you put things in perspective, clear your head and make you a happier person.

I don’t have time to work out! I’m abroad, I have to live in the moment!”

Hiking in Europe 

         While abroad, it is crucial to not get caught up in trivial things, but 30 minutes is all it takes to put in a good work out. Professors abroad are aware of the fact that you are studying in a foreign country and that the experience outside the classroom is just as, if not more, valuable than inside it. You will find yourself with a lot of free time, and you will be tempted to squander it away in your room catching up on your favorite American TV shows. Instead, take 30 minutes and do a quick workout. Hiking with friends can also be a fun way to spend a lazy Saturday morning, and finding trails can be easy. Consult your local office of tourism or the Traildino.

Staying healthy abroad is by no means easy, but it can be done. Live free and easy and if you gain a couple of pounds, it is not a problem. Finding a perfect balance can be a challenge, but it is essential to your happiness and well-being that you do not put your health on the back-burner while abroad.

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