Moving abroad inevitably has an effect on your lifestyle. Even if you have always had an excellent health and fitness routine, finding yourself transplanted from your home country into a place you don’t know — and where you might not even speak the local language — can make it difficult to keep up good habits.Lifestyle diseases are a leading cause of death in the Czech Republic, with the vast majority of deaths from non-natural causes being related to cardiovascular or pulmonary complaints. This goes hand-in-hand with the high levels of smoking and alcohol consumption in the country. And with an overstretched health system, and a lot of facilities requiring modernisation particularly in the rural areas of the country, the outlook is not sunny for those suffering from these kinds of complaints.
“But I’ve always been fit and healthy!” you might say. “I don’t smoke! I only drink in moderation!”
If this is you, then the likelihood that you will contract a cardiovascular or pulmonary disease will be lower than the average. However, it is easy to fall into bad habits when you move abroad, particularly if your new destination does not have the kinds of facilities you are used to. If you worked out in a health club every day back home, how will you feel visiting a less modern gym with more basic facilities? If you prefer to get your exercise by surfing or swimming in the ocean, how will you feel living in a land-locked country where your only choice might be a chlorinated municipal pool?
Before you move abroad, think about the positive lifestyle choices you make at the moment, and what it is that helps you to keep them habitual. Do you live near a farmer’s market or a good greengrocer’s shop that provides excellent fresh vegetables? Do you refuse to shop in supermarkets in order to avoid taking advantage of tempting offers of unhealthy food wrapped in shiny packaging? Do you walk or cycle to work? Go mountain-climbing? Dig your own garden?
Some of your current healthy lifestyle choices will be translatable into your new life: you will probably be able to find a local greengrocer wherever you live, even in a busy city like Prague. Of course, if you are moving to a more rural part of the Czech Republic then you might be able to find a local farm shop or weekly market to provide you with fresh produce.
If there is a particular thing you know you will miss, see if you can find a replacement, even if it’s not quite the same. Many open water swimmers do not like the idea of swimming in pools, but if the alternative is not swimming at all, then it might be worth a try. Often you can get used to an alternative option, and you may even come to love it — albeit for different reasons.
Don’t just think about what you currently do well, though. When moving abroad it is important to be realistic and understand that, even if you are choosing to move there and you feel excited about the move, it will still be a challenge. And many of us deal with challenging situations by turning to less than healthy distractions. If you can get ahead of the curve and teach yourself to replace unhealthy with healthy when the temptation first arises, then you will have a much easier time in the long run. It is much harder to break a well-established habit than to create a new one.
Think about the last time something stressed you out. It could be anything: an argument with your partner, a call from an overbearing family member, a worrying letter from the bank. How did you deal with it? Or, more to the point, how did you not deal with it: what did you do to assuage your stress and worry about the situation?
If you automatically got up and went to the gym, or made yourself a super healthy salad, then congratulations: you are in the shining minority. But if you are more like the average person, you probably did something along the lines of binge-watching a TV show; getting a takeaway; or drinking half a bottle of wine and trying to forget about the situation entirely.
As a one-off response to occasional stresses, these reactions aren’t necessarily problematic. But bear in mind that in your new home — especially during the first few months — you will probably find yourself facing stressful situations more frequently than you did in your home country.
Before you get used to a place, even basic things such as finding the right ingredients to make a meal can be stressful, especially if you do not speak the local language. And sometimes, these things can feel like the final straw: if you have spent all day trying to sort out a private health insurance policy and then you go out to buy ingredients for dinner and can’t even work out which box contains salt based on the labels, it can feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If you have a long list of things to do when you first arrive, which most people will, try to break them down into smaller chunks, perhaps by doing one per day, giving yourself at least one day off per week if you can. Look up common words before you arrive, including the names and pronunciations of the ingredients for your favourite meals — and remember to look up the generic name for the product, rather than a brand name, which might not be available in your new local shops.
Above all, remember to be kind to yourself. Try to bear in mind that you have done something many people dream of, but few people actually do: moved abroad to a whole new country! What an exciting experience, even if it is stressful at times.
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