Sunday, May 7, 2017

Expat Exercise Challenges

10,000 steps a day is easy!
I remember hearing people complain about the "over 40 metabolism slowdown" when I was younger. Now it's happening and it's no fun. According to this article by on Huffington Post, it has to do with changes in hormones, loss of muscle mass, and insulin resistance. Whatever it is, I don't like it. Diet and exercise continue to be the frustrating components of living life as an expat. The last few years I lived in Colorado Springs, I attended a CrossFit gym and ate a primarily Paleo diet. Believe it or not, I got up at 4:30 am, did the 5 AM WOD, then it was home, shower, and off to work. I loved knocking out my workout first thing in the morning. I was feeling and looking good.

With spring/summer in the air, I'm getting back into working out more regularly. By the nature of how much I walk as a part of my average day, I do get my 10,000 steps/day easily. Most days I'm in the 12,000 to 15,000 step range. With the weather improving, I enjoy walking home from work (5k/3 miles). But I have been riding the exercise roller coaster since arrival. When it's so dark and cold in the winter time--motivation can be tough to scrounge up. There are a few aspects that contribute to the up and down experience, the on-the-wagon, off-the-wagon reality of making/keeping exercise a part of my every day life. 

  • Location and Accessibility.
    I'd LOVE to go to a gym, but without a car (which I do NOT want to acquire, nor do I want to drive in UB) it limits my options. I'd LOVE to have "Crossfit UB" within a 10 minute walk from my apartment. I'd be willing to pay a solid membership fee for that kind of workout and having it close to home. Of course I'd want a qualified trainer/coach employed at said Box. But alas, Crossfit hasn't officially made it to UB yet. I *could* use the gym at my school. It has weights and cardio machines, a gymnasium, mats, everything really. But I am deterred by the need to lug around shower stuff and/or a change of clothing. I already carry a steady backpack to and from work for everyday necessities. I don't want to shower and get ready AT school, and traveling home sweaty and gross doesn't appeal to me either. (I know....these are MY choices!) SO.....I've settled for working out in my apartment.

  • Time of Day.
    I prefer to work out in the morning. Starting a day with a workout is ideal for my body and spirit. It kick starts my muscles and metabolism and there is something exceptional about knowing you've already checked that item off one's list. However, because I live in a 75 sq. meter apartment (about 800 sq. feet) with only two rooms that offer enough space to work out--both of which are bedrooms--I can't workout before school as it would disturb my husband and son's sleep. Therefore, I have to force myself to work out in the evening. Not ideal for me, but as they say, you make time for what's important. And a workout anytime of day is better than NO workout at all. 

  • Equipment.
    One has two options: (a) join a gym where the equipment is provided, or (b) purchase/supply your own equipment to create a home gym. I came with a few things--exercise mat, jumprope, resistance band, workout clothing. Since arrival I've added weights as I LOVE strength training. As a woman, this is important towards maintaining muscle mass and to keeping my bones strong as I age. I absolutely love having sore quads and hamstrings from doing squats and lunges! In the beginning, I could only find 1-10 lb dumbbells. Then they jumped pretty drastically, from 10 to 15 to 20. As a woman, I need smaller increments. When we came back from our holiday visit to the U.S. I brought home my big investment--a set of PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells. Together they weighed 50 lbs. I had to divide them up, placing a few parts in each of our 6 bags. One of them I transported in my carry-on. You should have seen the security personnel in the Beijing airport inspecting that!! Hilarious. BUT.....these are a brilliant investment. I'm so glad I bought them and worked out how to get them here. 


From 3 to 24 lbs in 3 lb increments. Brilliant!!


  • Trainer and/or Workout program.Since I'm not attending a Crossfit gym where a trainer/coach decides and guides the day's workout, I have to make or find my own. I have some books on weightlifting and brought some DVD programs as well. However, in this era of streaming online media, I've grown to use and love FitnessBlender. They offer hundreds of free, online workouts. Stand alone, 5 day challenges, or multi-week plans with a focus (strength, fat loss, flexibility, etc). I've also become a fan of Yoga with Adrienne. Yoga can be surprisingly difficult. I struggle to clear my mind during these sessions--doesn't help that I'm watching intensely trying to figure out the moves--but I do feel that my muscles get a serious workout even if I'm not huffing and puffing at the end. :)

I try to workout 3-5 times a week. On the weekends I sometimes go for a run in the morning when the air is yet cool. I usually do a 3 mile loop, from home to the Wrestling Palace (where I do step-ups and squats) and then around the Square on the way home. I wish I could run dirt trails (I so miss the Fountain Valley Regional Trail system!) and they do exist, but then there is the transportation issue to tackle. So I find a way to work with I got! Urban running it is! 

As for diet, that's a whole other conversation. One would think that with Mongolia's obsession with MEAT it would be easy to be Paleo. It is, and it isn't. They do have lots of meat. However, it's often tough and hidden by a crapload of wheat (NOT paleo) in some form. Mongolia is known for two food groups--meat and dairy. Dairy is NOT Paleo. So this is another on-again, off-again battle--trying to eat Paleo in a land that puts LOADS of refined carbs and often gluten in every dish (rice, noodles, bread, etc). Bottom line...you have to shop around and do lots of planning. 

I'll wrap this up for now. Time to get outside for a walk in the 70+ degree sunshine to get my vitamin D allotment. :)

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