Health & Fitness from Around the Globe
According to Google, The top five most talked about topics online are: health (14%), games (13%), auto & moto (13%), IT & tech (9%), and sports (8%). With this information in mind, I set about putting together an article which would combine both health and travel. If you are looking for an active holiday, hopefully you will find my research helpful. I hope you enjoy reading what I came up with.
I thought America deserved a quick overview. It is renowned for its world class athletes, its obsession with sport and fitness but also its national obesity statistics catylsed by a love of fast food and massive portions.
Men’s Fitness magazine declared (albeit in 2009), that Utah and Colarado were the 2 fittest states in America; surprisingly California was named as one of the ‘fattest’. Nevada and Miami were also amongst the fattest places according to their research.
Utah and Colorado
So why is Utah so fit? The most popular sports in the state are skiing, snowboarding, hiking and biking. Colorado seems similar in terms of the most popular sports and past times. After a quick inspection of Colorado.com (unfortunately I’ve never visited and know nothing about the place), one can see that winter sports are also a big part of the state’s culture. Dogsledding is even listed as one of the promoted activities, sounds brilliant, not sure it would burn that many calories though!
Given that California, Miami and Nevada are listed as being really unhealthy, it would appear that all that sun and heat, makes people lazy and the snow makes people active! Food for thought. Healthy food that is.
California is still a great place to visit for an active holiday, in my own humble opinion. Being a big fan of martial arts myself, I was very excited to go there last year for a road trip of the state. One of the most popular sports over there is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and there are gyms all over the place. There’s certainly no shortage of fitness opportunities in California. Baffling really that the state has been declared, as being so unhealthy.
My own personal highlight was a swim in Lake Tahoe; it was absolutely freezing though so only lasted about 10 seconds. Not sure if that counts as exercise or not. Certainly a beautiful place, I’ll be investing in a wet-suit next time though.
Picture of my better half at Lake Tahoe
San Francisco, is apparently, an increasingly popular destination for British Tourists. Take a stroll around San Francisco, morning, afternoon or night; and you are virtually guaranteed to see a jogger, somebody doing chin ups or locals going for gold in one of the 24 hour gyms.
One thing is for certain, San Francisco’s tourist friendly areas, are full of active and fit people. Perhaps on my own visit there I only saw the idyllic sights of the city; the bits that the Californian Tourist board (or their equivalent) wanted me to see. But in spite of my cynical sub-conscious, I was still impressed with the vast amount of healthy places to eat, and the amount of gyms scattered around the place; including cast iron ones placed at random spots around the bay area.
Like many American cities,’ Boot Camps’ in the park and on the beach are common place. Groups of people doing plyometrics and boxing at 6am in the morning; rather them than me!
My better half outside a Restaurant In San Fran. Not sure if this one was healthy or not.
San Francisco Boot Camp
Many people propose that our European chums are fitter than Brits and Americans because of their limited use of cars. They love cycles to get around; well the Dutch do at least. After doing a bit of research I managed to find a study to confirm this.
Bassett et al found that walking and bicycling are far more common in European countries than North America and that this ‘active’ transport is inversely related to obesity in these countries.
Forbes.com found that Northern Europe is home to some of the world’s healthiest countries with Iceland, Sweden and Finland coming in at the top.
Forbes looked at statistics related to factors such as air pollution, undernourishment rates and life expectancy.
Sweden is a pretty expensive place to visit but going off the report from Forbes.com it certainly qualifies for a more detailed mention. Sweden’s national sports are football and ice hockey. In 1998, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Sweden as the healthiest country in Europe, due to its health services but also the overall way of life. With one foot in the past with their love of nature and the outdoors, coupled with a modern awareness of the benefits of physical activity, Sweden is one of the best places to visit if you want to see an example of a fit and healthy lifestyle.
If you enjoy the outdoors and want to go on an activity holiday, Sweden is a good choice. With the amazing waters of the Stockholm archipelago, to the mountain plains; there are a huge choice of activities. Kayaking, National Park expeditions, dog-sledding and all types of camping trips are available in Sweden.
Holiday companies offer adventure holidays from easy to challenging, family friendly, guided and self-guided tours. If you are looking for an active holiday then Sweden is certainly an option worth exploring.
Although the Italians may be less enthusiastic about our commercial style gymnasiums; they love their sport. Football, pretty obviously, is the most popular sport in Italy, basketball, volleyball and rugby union are also popular.
Perhaps I’ve watched too many films that stereotype Italians, but the one thing that has always confused me is how they love their food so much, yet they are statistically a lot healthier than the Brits. Almost a quarter of the British are obese, compared to less than 10% of Italians. The key to the Italians relatively slim waistlines and beautiful physiques is according to many, due to their love of fresh, unprocessed foods, their love of cooking itself (not microwaving like us lot) and smaller portion sizes.
Milan itself is home to Italy’s most successful basketball team – Olimpia Milano, and of course Inter and AC Milan football teams. The city is surrounded by amazing wine country, and is well known for its well-aged reds – healthy in moderation!
Their traditional cuisine however includes a dish called Risotto alla Milanese; which contains a fair amount of cheese and butter.
If you are looking to keep fit whilst visiting the city; a company called Sportsman Club have opened 7 affiliated commercial gyms in the Milan area. Perhaps worth a visit if you are worried about losing some muscle mass during a stay.
Holland – Amsterdam
Think of Amsterdam and what comes to mind? Great, now think about how they get about! The Dutch love their bikes. Cycling is healthy, economical and environmentally friendly. It’s also safer in Holland where they have more bike lanes than in the UK!
One thing you may not know about Amsterdam, is that it is often touted as Europe’s hub of kickboxing. They have produced many great kick-boxing and Thai-boxing champions such as “Mr Perfect” Ernesto Hoost and current K-1 world champion Alistair Overeem. Unfortunately I never made it to the any of the famous gyms over there, mainly due to under-estimating the strength of the local muffins but Vos Gym, Mejiro Gym and Kops Gym are all world famous. To kickboxing fans at least.
One very popular long-haul destination is Thailand. You could say this city is fit in many ways and unhealthy and not at all fit in other ways. But Bangkok is a pretty cool place to write about; probably not ideal criteria to get included in this list but please read on…
Thailand is the home of, believe it or not, Thai boxing. Other indigenous sports or martial arts include Kraabi krabong – a martial arts which centres around hand held weapons, Sepak Takraw which is like a cross between football and volleyball and the more recognisable sports (to Westerners anyway) of Football and Volleyball.
The traditional food is quite healthy compared to a typical UK diet. In fact, after doing a bit of research online, many state that Thai Cuisine is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. The fresh herbs such as turmeric and lemongrass have immune boosting and disease fighting properties. One thing to keep in mind however is that a lot of the curries are made with coconut milk. Whether this is a bad thing or not is a controversial and contentious issue in the fitness industry at the moment. It is certainly high in saturated fat and calories, but some evidence suggests that it raises HDL cholesterol . Do a Google search for research by Feranil published in 2011 if you are interested.
Either way, healthy or unhealthy (not sure about some of the rats and lizards on sale), Bangkok market is definitely worth a visit.
Video of Bangkok Market
Shanghai is the city with the highest life expectancy in China – 82 years. China itself, with such an ancient history, has developed its own unique indigenous sports and now holds the – wait for it – ‘National Minority Nationalities Traditional Sports Games’ every 4 years.
Shanghai is the eight largest city in the world and the largest in China. The city has outstanding facilities for those looking for an adrenalin rush whilst visiting on holiday and is also home to the Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre which held the FINA world championships in 2011 (the international governing body of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming). There are also a number of companies that offer cycle tours of the city and a company called china-outside specialises in adventure holidays across the country.
Shanghai has many parks, which with a bit of imagination can be used for all sorts of activities, but usually these would include kite flying, walking and Tai Chi. Shanghai also has a big BMX following and there are great facilities for rock climbing.
Shanghai traditional cuisine includes Xiao Long Bao or in English – Little Dragon Bun. These are dumplings steamed in bamboo, filled with one of a variety of meats or fish or just to complicate things a vegetarian filling. 5 dumplings will normally contain around 300 calories and 10g of fat.
One of the most densely populated countries in the world, poverty is widespread and about half of the population lives on less than one dollar per day. Probably not a contender for the fittest place on the planet then; but an intriguing, culturally rich land. I was interested to research its favourite sports and activities and their motivations for participation.
In the cooler seasons, Bangladesh goes badminton mad with all kinds of temporary and make-shift courts erected about the city. Signposts and clothes lines are often combined to make a ‘net’ of sorts. Bangladesh is also cricket crazy; in fact, with their strong domestic league, it definitely qualifies as the most popular sport. Football is also very popular but Kabaddi is the most iconic. Played with two teams, each team takes turns in sending a raider into the opposing team’s half, where they aim to tag or wrestle members of the opposition before returning back to their own half. The raider must not take a breath and constantly chants to prove he is abiding by the rules.
Bangladesh culture is strongly influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. This is manifested in many forms including its music, dance and celebrations.
Commercial gyms in Bangladesh have traditionally been a facility only available to the social elite. However, over recent years there has been an increase of cheaper gyms available to (in a financial sense) a larger portion of society and Gold’s Gym has even expanded into the country. Thai-Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts has also begun to build up a strong base of popularity and participation.
Not the first choice for most people in terms of a health and fitness holiday perhaps. Bangladesh is still a country which caters for those looking to pursue sporting past times, especially if you have more money than the average local (which you probably do if you’re going to fly out there for a couple of weeks).
This is one place I have visited recently. I saved up for 2 years to go to California in May 2011. I got back from the trip and within a week my brother, who lives in Melbourne, informed us that he was getting married the day before Christmas Eve in Sydney. Nice one Bro, just £1500 for the flight then.
Me on Bondi Beach Feeling rather ill after eating loads of French food
2 days after arriving in Melbourne, we flew to Sydney for the wedding. We stayed in my brother’s friend’s apartment just 2 minutes from Bondi Beach. Being jet-lagged and possessing a body clock that was all over the shop, I went for stroll on the beach at 5.30am. Expecting it to be empty, I was surprised to find the beach was packed with joggers, swimmers and personal trainers doing some boxing drills on the pads with their clients.
‘Wow!’ I thought, this is somewhere I could definitely live. My emigration ambitions soon peaked and leveled off however, when I discovered how expensive everything was. Also, how tall and perfect looking the population appeared to be, got kind of annoying after a week or so.
Sydney has commercial gyms, Thai Boxing gyms and MMA gyms all over the place. Of course it goes without saying that surfing and swimming is also, as you expect, extremely popular amongst the locals.
A company called Red Roo caters for fitness fanatics on holiday in Sydney. Running, Yoga, kayaking and cycling are all available if you want to get in shape or maintain your fitness whilst visiting. Sydney also has its own Festival of Cycling and Blackmore’s Running Festival.
Despite my intentions to train every day in the nearby Thai Boxing gym and run on the beach in the evening; the jet-lag coupled with being force fed a load of purple meat and oysters at my brother’s wedding; left me wanting to use the beach as a place to catch some extra sleep rather than to train like one of the locals.
Back in Melbourne, I did manage to drive the Great Ocean Road. Some great sights, like the 12 Apostles and some rather loud koala bears hanging, asleep in the trees.
Me, Feeling Rather Unwell, Pictured with the 12 Apostles
Well, there you have it. My take on health and fitness from around the world. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. Just to finalise this blog-post; I thought I’d sign out with the video of myself attempting to swim in Lake Tahoe.