Drop the Excuses and Get Fit in the City
By Jamie S. Rich
Let’s face it, little earth shatteringly new information exists on how to get in shape and stay fit in the city, or for that matter, anywhere. Albeit deep in their subconsciousness, most people know that eating less and exercising more not only makes them look better but also improves their overall health. However, despite the obvious, the overwhelming majority of people simply ignore such logic and rely on a potpourri of excuses to avoid facing the unhealthy truth. That being said, what can be offered is new motivation and ideas on how to stay fit in Moscow for those people who long ago abandoned their New Year’s resolutions to get in better shape.
Hundreds of excuses crowd the minds of desperate expatriates wishing for a healthier lifestyle and a sleeker physique. “I hate working out;” “Moscow is too polluted to enjoy the outdoors;” “Eating healthy is too hard in Moscow;” “My gym is inconvenient;” “I’m too tired;” “I hate the gym and it’s too expensive;” “I am too busy with my kids and work;” and the list goes on. This is what I offer in response:
“I hate working out”
Most uniformed would-be gym rats envision exercise as simply curling dumbbells or pounding away on the treadmill. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. Most local sport clubs now offer cool classes that actually give gym-goers something to look forward to. For example, “Strip Tease,” an aerobics class teaching erotic dance moves, increases your heart rate in the gym and provides some helpful tips for your own at-home workouts. But, if learning to take it off is a bit too aggressive for you, “Hip Hop” or “Body Pump” classes are less sexually charged and just as fun. Otherwise, you can burn hundreds of calories in spinning class, take it easy on your joints in water aerobics, or find inner peace with yoga. After fine-tuning your body in one of these group classes, adrenaline still pumping, explore other athome routines that compliment your workout. In fact, sex is a widely recognized way to burn a few extra calories and show off your new moves.
Fitness Trainer Galina Knavkina
Galina Knavkina, a former championship body builder and personal trainer at Planet Fitness on Bolshoy Kislovsky lane, said that people who are physically fit have a healthier sex drive because they possess a better overall state of well-being.
However, if you find that you are just not in the mood for one of these alternative routines, probably the most convenient, easiest and relaxing form of exercise is walking. Consider this, if you have errands to run, ditch your driver for an hour and walk one way to or from your destination. If you walk to Stockman’s and take the car home, depending on where you live, you have already squeezed in a good thirty-minute walk. In reality, it could take you longer to actually sit in the car and drive to the grocery store than it would to walk. Be creative and ask yourself before hopping in the car – is it possible to walk?
Exercise is the best way to keep fit!
Walking also provides a great gratification forum for all of your hard work.
“It is a wonderful feeling to walk down the street and have people look at you, not because of your fancy clothes but because of your beautiful body,” added Knavkina.
Clearly, exercising does not have to be a chore. Many people hate doing it because they just don’t know how to achieve the desired results. Hiring a personal trainer who helps you plan your workouts can push you to the next level and ensure you do the right type of exercises and eat the right foods. A trainer helps get you started or just pumps life back into your old routine.
“Moscow is too polluted to enjoy the outdoors”
Pollution does pose a barrier to enjoying outdoor activities in the city center. In fact, I tried going for a run outside my apartment — once — when I first moved to Moscow. It only took me two minutes to realize that this was not something people do here. If you have ever tried this yourself, then I do not have to explain the amazed look on people’s faces, the pointing and incessant commentary yelled from car windows as I ran alongside rows of cars bubbling with carbon monoxide gases. In addition to the stares and exhaust fumes, navigating around parked cars on the sidewalk created another hazard. But, I quickly realized that there are plenty of beautiful, expansive, oxygen-filled parks that make running in the city a pleasure. The parks provide a healthy and safe way to enjoy biking, rollerblading, running and walking with friends — or your dog if you give the dog walker the day off.
Dr. Dominique Gautier, general practitioner at the European Medical Center
Despite the weather, Moscow offers exceptional exercise options in the winter. In those same parks where people rollerblade in the summer, one can cross country ski, ice skate, and still take invigorating walks in the winter.
“It’s too hard to eat healthy in Moscow.”
Eating healthy is hard anywhere, and admittedly more so in Moscow because Russian food is rich in flavor, fat, and cholesterol. But, you simply must make healthier choices. This however, requires willpower. For instance, the pelmeni on the menu might be staring you down, but a healthy body needs the salad. Small requests like asking that your food be steamed, not fried, and that butter not be used in cooking your dish make a big difference in the healthfulness of the food you consume when dinning out. Clearly, cooking at home allows you better control over what you eat, but that takes even more, ahem — effort.
Food forms the basis of any healthy lifestyle, said Knavkina. People who travel often find it difficult to maintain healthy eating habits, but fruits and vegetables are easily available in any food store. Knavkina recommends bringing healthy snacks on business trips and stresses that once a person starts to feel the pleasures of living a healthy lifestyle, they cannot go back to their old ways.
“My gym is not convenient”
Before eating right and exercising becomes a lifestyle, you actually must make it to the gym. Undoubtedly, the most important consideration in choosing a sports club is location, location, location. Join the gym closest to your home or office. If you have to fight traffic going to the gym, chances are, you won’t. So keep it convenient.
“I’m too tired to workout.”
Believe it or not, getting in shape and eating healthy actually gives you more energy.
“When you workout, the hormone system is activated, regulating the work of your entire body,” said Knavkina, adding that a healthy body stimulates a healthy mind, and people who are in shape perform better at work and are emotionally more stable.
If exhaustion constantly plagues you, you may simply need more sleep, which also affects your weight. Dr. Dominique Gautier, general practitioner at the European Medical Center, said that sleep is a critical factor in maintaining good health. He recommended that in addition to exercising regularly (two to three times a week), a person should sleep eight hours each night.
A recent study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Obesity Research Center found that those people sleeping less than four or five hours each night are more likely to suffer from obesity than people who sleep seven or more hours each night. According to the study, hormones affected by sleep deprivation are the culprits; so stop working against your fitness cause and get to bed a bit earlier.
We all know that the mortality rate in Russia is shockingly low, with an average life expectancy of 58 for men and 66 for women, according to 2005 World Bank statistics. The cause is linked, of course, to unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking, eating fatty foods and other Russia-specific risks. The impact of these factors on expatriates living here, while not empirically tested, is presumably the same. Clearly, our bodies do not provide a special protective layer against these toxins simply because we are foreigners. You must take care of your body no matter where you live or where you are from.
Dr. Gautier suggested taking supplementary antioxidants such as Beta Carotene, Vitamins C and E, and Omega 3 capsules, especially in winter, to improve your overall health. Omega 3 (also known as fish oil) is thought to decrease your chances of heart disease, but there remains no substitute for cardiovascular exercise, the best overall heartstrengthening measure.
Environmental toxins aside, Dr. Gautier also warned that stress is the No. 1 health concern for expatriates working in Moscow. Burning the candle at both ends comes with the territory, but the risks of literally burning yourself out are far greater than most people realize. Dr. Gautier said that exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep are the two best ways to alleviate stress and its related health problems.
“I hate the gym and it’s too expensive”
If the thought of paying big bucks to ride the stationary bike next to a skinny little blond, who doesn’t believe in sports bras, makes you cringe, get yourself to the nearest sporting goods store and invest in the basics, an abdominal matt and a fitness ball. These cheap tools offer a world of options for your at-home regiment.
Knavkina suggested crunches (sit-ups), push-ups, lunges, and leg lifts as effective, easily executed exercises that can be performed from the comforts of your living room floor. As for the big fitness ball, it works almost every muscle group in the body including legs, back, chest and abs. Most fitness balls come with a quick “how-to” guide, illustrating suggested exercises and the correct forms.
Dr. Gautier practices what he preaches and agreed that owning equipment increases the likelihood of people exercising. “I work out four hours a week at home on my rowing machine,” he said.
“I am too busy with my kids and work”
There might be a couple of mothers in Moscow who do not have one, but for the most part, the nanny cup runneth over. For those exceptions, most gyms in Moscow provide on-site childcare (and activities for the kids), giving busy parents free time to workout.
If work keeps you at the office too late for an evening walk or a dance class, waking up earlier and going before work becomes your only option. First commit to one day a week, and see how you feel throughout the day.
Knavkina said that exercising before work boosts your energy levels and sharpens your mind.
Unfortunately, most people reading this article lack the will power necessary to make lifestyle changes and realize tangible results. However, if you have a desire, you already possess the most important tool for reaching your goals. First things first, drop the excuses and recognize from the outset that getting in shape is not easy. In fact, that is why exercise is commonly referred to as, “working out.” Because it is, in fact, work. And despite the pollution, cold weather, and high-calorie Russian food, the good news is that Moscow provides plenty of viable options for people willing to trade in their remote control for their running shoes.