Fitness for Foreigners
How people exercise in China, Pakistan, Sudan, and Sweden.
See the rest of Slate's Fitness Issue.
I tried to go jogging in Juba, Sudan, once, and after receiving lots of odd looks and then putting my foot straight into a great big cow pat, I gave that up—which really just shows I'm not that committed to running. Since then, I've been reduced to a few sit-ups on the floor of my shipping container. (Yes, when in Juba, I live in a shipping container. There's a distinct absence of light, but they can be transported flat, and they're relatively cheap and structurally sturdy.) In Khartoum, though, it's wonderful to take a brisk stroll at sunset on the banks of the Nile. Providing you don't have a camera on you, the police posted along the way leave you alone. And as dusk falls, you see groups of friends who come out to sit on the banks and drink tea together. It's a nice bit of escapism from the city crowds.
—Rebecca Hamilton is the author of Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle To Stop Genocide.
With temperatures ranging between near zero and well below freezing for eight months of the year, the thought of exercising outdoors in Sweden may sound like folly. But in the last year, government-subsidized outdoor gyms have been popping up in parks and along running paths across the country as Swedes, accustomed to socialized everything, petitioned local politicians to make free exercise equipment accessible to all. One Swedish fitness magazine describes the benefits of the latest workout fad in terms that compulsively hygienic and appearance-conscious Swedes can understand: "You don't need to exercise in a crowded room with sweaty people, and you don't need to look good for the gym." In September last year, Stockholm's sports and culture minister, Madeleine Sjöstedt, inaugurated a new outdoor gym in Södermalm—one of the capital's bobo neighborhoods—praising the complex as "a place that will enhance public health and appeal to people who don't feel at home at the gym." Some of the equipment sporty Swedes now access for free in the freezing open air include stretch apparatuses for two, pull-up bars, bench press machines, and back strengtheners.
—Kristine Bergstrom is an editor at Bollywood news site DesiHits.com.
Fitness fans in Thailand take advantage of the low cost of labor, which keeps massage, classes, boot camps, and personal trainers reasonably priced. Pilates and yoga are popular, as are high-intensity Muay Thai (kickboxing) sessions. And the action is not all indoors. In spite of Bangkok's air pollution, an active triathlon chapter and Hash House Harriers bike and race throughout the year, and Lumphini Park is crowded each morning with joggers getting in a few laps before the tropical sun becomes too intense. Crazes for miracle-promising gadgets like Power Plates and Ki Fit catch on quickly and are featured in high-end department stores, with knock-offs quickly following. Finally, the city's notorious traffic congestion ensures that it's quicker to walk from main arteries and public transportation, adding a bit of exercise to every errand.
—Cynthia Barnes returns to Bangkok frequently from her current home in Colorado.
Here in Istanbul, Turkey, where I swim laps at a university health club, time in the pool looks a little different than in New York: A pear-shaped boy prefers the deep end, where he sinks to the bottom, twirling slowly, floating gaily back to the surface to bob and splash. Then there are the two bronzed women who emerge from the locker room in flowery towels. Wearing the briefest of black bikinis, they slip long limbs into the far lane, dog-paddling daintily to and fro, painted toes barely pushing the water. In the center lane, a thick man in his 40s dives in, sending tremendous waves skating around. He swims furiously, nearly drowning us, his hairy arms thrashing. But two laps later, he's standing in the shallow end, soaking, massaging his vast upper body, smiling. I smile back, then continue swimming, getting nowhere fast on another day far away from home.
—Nathan Deuel is a writer based in Turkey and Iraq.
Live somewhere we didn't cover? Know of a foreign fitness trend that we missed? Please post your observations about other countries' exercise trends in the comment section below.
Also in Slate's Fitness issue, Emily Yoffe gets shredded by Jillian Michaels and coddled by Jack LaLanne and our handy flowchart helps you navigate awkward, naked gym situations.
Photograph courtesy Jackie Spinner.