Last update on July 23, 2019

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is all about routine. But what if you completely upend your life by moving abroad? Keeping fit after you’ve moved abroad can be more challenging than it looks at first glance.

How has the change in lifestyle in your new country of residence affected your fitness level?

Out of the 84 readers who participated  in Expatica’s online poll earlier this month, 34 said that they felt more fit now than in their homeland or previous country of residence, six  felt that their fitness level was the same and 44 said that they were less fit in their new country. It’s interesting to note that the expats who feel more fit, feel significantly healthier; maybe it’s that healthy local cuisine.

“Greatly affected — we’re both 15kg/35 pounds lighter, in better shape, and eating more healthy than we have in years.”   ~ France

“Cycling as a means of transport in Holland is a big change to my fitness level.  I started running, which was influenced by a Dutch colleague who is a tri-athlete.  I have also become a fitness trainer since I moved here.”
~ The Netherlands

“Much fitter than I used to be; I have dropped 2 dress sizes since moving to NL from UK.”   ~ The Netherlands

“Living in the Netherlands has improved my fitness level. I am now considering myself as an athlete.”
~ The Netherlands

However, some expats put it bluntly.
“I got fat.”   ~ France

Most respondents mentioned walking as part of life in Europe. Many also said they often use their bicycle as a form of transportation. For some, this means a higher level of fitness; for those used to more intense workouts, this is not enough to maintain their previous fitness level. Unfortunately, the obstacles of expat life can undermine even a motivated sports enthusiast. No matter which country an expat resides in, the same issues hamper attempts at fitness.


“I have gained weight! Due to the rain, you need more running gear, so when things are wet (running shoes…) you have another pair. I don’t have that needed extra set. I don’t have any workout partners to go to the gym with.“
~ The Netherlands


“Fitness level has dropped significantly despite the cycling. I can’t join sports teams because I don’t speak the language. The gyms are very expensive. The food seems to have a lot of extra fat and sugar.  And the alcohol is a lot cheaper!”   ~ The Netherlands

Local diet:

“The richer food in France has definitely made me gain some weight – I can’t resist the cheese!”   ~ France

“I have gained 15 kilos given all the fried foods and high carb Dutch diet!”   ~ The Netherlands

Access to favorite sports:

“I used to go to the gym at 5am 6x a week.  Now I am lucky to get there 4x a week and only at night.  I used to take group classes & teach kickboxing – almost unheard of here!  I’m doing my best but it’s not the same.”   ~ France

Lack of facilities:

“I walk a lot more but no longer swim as Paris swimming pools are busy and aggressive – a kick in the face from a passing ‘pro’ is part and parcel. There are only two decent gyms in Paris (L’Usine and Klay) and they are more expensive than something similar in London.”   ~ France

“Decreased fitness level due to increased stress level!” ~ Belgium

City mouse & country mouse

Expats living in large cities seemed to feel less fit than those living in smaller towns. Crowded facilities and swimming pools, temptations such as restaurants and cafes, and distance from nature impact the desire to work on fitness. Those with access to hiking trails and bike trails through nature are happier with the options available. Fresh local produce and less stress also contribute to the fitness of the country cousins.

“Better than ever – good local fresh food, fresh air, relaxed lifestyle, good bicycling and walking in the countryside.”  ~ France

 “I am not as fit as I used to be. I used to live in Stuttgart which is near the countryside where it is nicer to go running and you need to bike uphill.”  ~ Germany

What do you do to keep in good shape in your current country of residence?

Even in the small sampling of expats in this survey, it is clear that cross-training is the answer to seasonal weather restrictions. Some respondents mentioned walking or biking for sport, but the majority of respondents mentioned walking and biking as a mode of transportation. For most, this was positive change in lifestyle.

“We walk so many places now, as opposed to driving everywhere as we did in the US.  Up and down stairs, walking to the shops, etc….so much better for us!”   ~ France

But for some, used to traveling by car, this is a bit of a chore.
“Up and down the metro steps and loads of walking…sigh.”   ~ France

There can also be cultural differences, as with this resident in France.
 “Jog (trying to hide from French neighbors who would think it crazy!), bicycle, walk, garden and house renovations.”   ~ France

Or, an opportunity to make friends and socialize.
“I started my very own mountain biking group, jogging group and I am also going to the gym nearby for weight training.”   ~ The Netherlands

“Gym, running, walking the dog.  Would like to join a sporting club to make more Dutch friends.”   ~ The Netherlands

Curious what others are doing to keep fit?

Here are activities other expats are doing and how many people in the survey mentioned each one.

Outdoor Sports

Walking – 33
Hiking – 3
Running – 21
Biking – 35
Rollerblading – 1
Swimming – 14
Skiing – 2
Football – 1
Baseball – 2
Golf – 1
Walking the dog – 3
Home renovation/gardening – 3
Logging – 1 (seriously…)

Indoor Sports

Gym/weights – 27
Racquet sports – 4
Martial arts/kickboxing – 2
Yoga – 7
Pilates – 3
Dance – 5
Stairs to apartment/no elevator – 3
Nothing/“Nothing much” – 5 (this activity can be indoors or outdoors)

The bright side

Some expats are not as fit as before. But they are happier. Happiness is relative, right? Some expats are obviously taking advantage of the positive aspects of living abroad.

“My fitness has gone down, as a result spending more time enjoying life – cafés/bars, restaurants, making friends.”   ~ The Netherlands

“I spend more time visiting places and having fun, as well as eating frites and having beers, so have less time to spend in the gym, which means I have lost my previous fitness level and have put on weight!”   ~ Belgium

Finally, this expat sums it all up.
“Eat cheese, drink wine!”   ~ France