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5 Ways to Stay Fit While Studying Abroad

We have all heard of the freshman fifteen. And, while not all of us are able to fight it in our first year at college, by sophomore year we pretty much have it figured out. We learn how to manage our diet and drinking habits, and find ways to work exercising into our schedules as often as possible. But what happens when you study abroad, and immerse yourself in a completely new environment… AGAIN? This has been my exact thought lately as I prepare to head to Spain in just one week!

The first step to staying fit abroad is realizing you are going to have to find some alternatives. Even if you have access to a gym, it may not be the same as what you’re used to or have your favorite classes, and dieting may be much harder (especially when you want to try all the delicious local foods and are on such a tight budget saving your extra money for traveling). But the truth of the matter is, there is no excuse not to work out… no matter where you are. Every place in the world has trails, stairs, mountains, stadiums – no matter the city, there are ways to turn your surroundings into a gym. So just be open-minded as you read our five ways to stay fit while studying abroad and those French croissants or bowls on bowls of Italian pasta will have nothing on you!

Explore: You are in an amazing, new and exciting place. GO EXPLORE IT! Go hiking, biking, or walking in a nearby village. Or take a trip to a nearby city and sightsee all day. Just get up and GO! “Go out and EXPLORE – that is why you study abroad, to learn about another place, so go do that!” says Jacqueline Newell, HC Campus Correspondent at Susquehanna University, who studied abroad in Alicante, Spain.

Exploring not only gives you the chance to see the new place you are in, it also enables you to do a lot of exercise as you walk around. When exploring (or even when just traveling to class, bars, etc.) be sure to walk! Just walking a mile a day will help you to not only burn calories and stay fit while abroad, but is also a great way to take in the scenery around you. HC High School Editor Hannah Orenstein, a sophomore at NYU who studied in Cannes, France says, “I walked everywhere, which added up to a couple miles a day. It helped that my friends wanted to stay in shape so we would challenge each other to speed-walk up hills.” So make each day a new chance to explore (and burn calories) and walk to each destination—it will go a long way!
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Try a new activity: The country you are in will be full of new experiences. Whether dancing, soccer, hiking, or swimming is popular there, TRY IT! It will not only give you a chance to make new friends, and experience a new culture, but, it will also help you to stay active! While Jacqueline was abroad in Spain she took salsa and flamenco dancing lessons every Tuesday and Thursday to help her stay active. In addition, she took a beach sporting class where she learned how to kayak, paddleboard, and windsurf. “My university offered a bunch of different classes and activities for international students,” she says. Be sure to research such options as soon as you arrive in your country and try to take advantage of as many as possible. If you are able to dedicate yourself to try at least one (if not all) of the activities your program or city has to offer, you can guarantee one calorie burning exercise a week. Think of it as your alternative to your spinning, zumba, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, or any other class you take – only this one allows you to embrace a new culture.

Equipment-Less Workouts: One of the biggest problems we face when abroad is the hesitation to join the gym, based on our tight budgets and their sometimes overwhelming costs. But that does not mean we cannot get a full core workout in our room. While rooms abroad are usually much smaller than those in the United States, there are hundreds of workouts that require little room, and no equipment. So whether in your room or a nearby park, be sure to try these out.

One of my favorites is yoga. While you may want to buy a yoga mat, a blanket on the ground will do just fine. My favorite website for online yoga videos is My Yoga Online. They have a wide variety of yoga classes, from beginner to expert, and allow you to choose from all different time lengths. This way you can choose whichever yoga type you feel most comfortable with, and a video that you can squeeze into any amount of time you find in your day.

Another way to work out in your room is with circuit workouts. HC has you covered with this article on travel-sized workouts. There are plenty of other examples of circuit workouts online, such as Fit Sugar’s 5 Easy Exercises for Traveling Gals. While the workout calls for small weights, a can of food, pair of shoes, or water bottles will certainly suffice. The article gives you five equipment-less workouts, with common household items as weight alternatives to try and challenge yourself with. These are just two of many workouts the web has to offer, so if these particular ones do not suit you, try another![pagebreak]

Portion Control: While you should definitely try every type of food your country has to offer, remember to control your portions. “I would still recommend trying all the different foods because that’s a big part of a country’s culture, but I would say just really watch how much you’re eating of it… things in moderation are perfectly fine,” says Jamie Blynn, a senior at George Washington University who studied abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel. One method is to allow yourself special treats, maybe once a day, or twice a week. And why not reward yourself when you have had an extremely active day? In addition, snacking and treats don’t have to be unhealthy. Ask locals where you can find fresh fruits and veggies to snack on throughout the day, rather than just grabbing a pastry at the shop below you. Melanie Jatsek, Registered Dietitian and author of Healthy U: A quick reference guide to eating healthy on campus and beating the Freshman 15, has a lot of good advice on healthy on-the-go snacking in her blog post Takin’ a trip? Snack on this!. She suggests keeping your refrigerator packed with fresh vegetables, lots of water, yogurt, unsalted nuts, and granola bars. There are, however, health hazards you must keep in mind when consuming fresh produce and water. Meredith Fineman, publicist, writer, the CEO of FinePoint PR and the founder and editor of TheFFJD and Girls Aren’t Funny, reminds girls to be aware that not all countries’ water is the same as the water we are used to. “Be sure to wash vegetables and fruits very carefully since your system can be different from natives to the country. If you’re worried and in a remote area, eat things with peels like oranges and bananas, and you’re less likely to get sick,” Fineman says. She also recommends sharing a rich meal with a friend and ordering a salad to accompany it; that way you can still try the rich plate, but consume much fewer calories than you would if you over-indulged.

Another idea to keep in mind when considering your food intake is to make sure you get plenty of nutrients! Jacqueline recommends making your plate as colorful as possible: “It helps when your plate looks good.” By making your plate “colorful” you help ensure your meal provides you with a variety of nutrients. It also helps you to avoid sticking to the same foods over and over again.

When it comes to portion control, food is not the only thing to be aware of. Drinking can affect your weight as well. In most countries outside the United States the legal drinking age is 18, and your drinking habits are likely to change (if you are not already 21). While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine at dinner, remember that alcohol has calories too, and they add up quick! There are a ton of alternatives to high calorie drinks such as wine and beer. Her Campus has a great list of the 10 Highest and Lowest Calorie Drinks, which is a great eye opener to how many calories your favorite cocktails actually have! So feel free to enjoy a drink or two, but just make sure to be conscious of which drink choices you are making.
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Make friends: As always, everything is more fun with friends! So make friends, and encourage each other to stay fit. As Hannah mentioned, you can challenge each other during your walks, and even help each other to diet and eat healthy. Just like we enjoy having a gym buddy, and someone to motivate us to stick to our diet, we will probably benefit from having friends to travel, explore, walk or run with! When out to dinner, encourage each other to opt for a salad instead of pizza, go grocery shopping together while on trips instead of eating out each meal, find local markets with healthy alternatives, and motivate each other to STAY ACTIVE each and every day. All the tips above will be a lot more fun, and easy to accomplish, with a support system (and friends to make it fun).

To make sure you all stick to your goals, make a fitness bucket list or set of goals when you first meet. Add to it any goals of joining activities, if you hope to lose a couple pounds or maintain your weight, and how you plan on eating healthy (e.g., eat fruit every day, or salsa dance once a week). Seeing goals written out in front of you will be an easy reminder to how you do not want to make the freshman fifteen mistake again. And, making the list together will help you to push each other on your inevitable “lazy” days.

Lastly, buy a scale. Doing so saves money, and since you will probably need to throw it away at the end of your trip, you won’t feel so guilty spending the extra cash. It also encourages you to stick to your plans and keep tabs on your weight. If you know you are going to see the pounds you eat/drink, you are less likely to consume them.

So there you have it, five ways to stay fit while studying abroad. Basically, it comes down to having fun and being health-conscious at the same time. If you make the effort to explore and be active while attempting to be conscious of your diet, you should be able to stay fit and maintain your weight. Just take advantage of everything you can while abroad and stay active. I plan to!

Hillary Coombs is a junior at Bryant University studying International Business and Marketing minoring in Chinese and Spanish. She works during the summers at Westminster Tool blogging and updating all social media accounts as well as interning in the International Affairs office. During the fall of 2012, Hillary studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain where she held a marketing internship and perfected her Spanish language. At Bryant, she works in the Office of Planning and Institutional Research gathering crucial university data and presenting it through documents to the President, Deans, and other faculty members of Bryant University. Aside from working and studying Hillary is a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority and Omicorn Delta Kappa. Hillary finds peace of mind staying active and running in local 5K races.
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