Moving to a new city demands adaptation. But it doesn’t mean losing your old routine completely, especially not the exercise habits that make a profound impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. Laura Saldanha shares her insights on keeping moving in her new home in Nairobi.
As an avid exerciser I knew that when I moved to Nairobi, Kenya it wouldn’t be easy to find a good exercise regime. Needing to consider safety, accessibility and cost I took to Google to see what my options were. As a Physiotherapist I know that to have a well-balanced exercise program you need a variety of strength training, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility/stretching. Having a balance between these three key areas assists in preventing pain and injury.
In Perth, Australia I was involved in Triathlons. When I arrived in Nairobi I had to accept that I would have to let the swimming and cycling go; And running… well that’s another story. The pools in Kenya are generally between 18-25m’s long and unless you love tumble turns, it’s probably not worth the effort. In terms of cycling, the roads and traffic are scary enough in a car so I definitely wasn’t game to take it on riding a bike! I researched where some local gyms were and as I don’t have a car here I wanted it to be within walking distance. I was able to find one that was 2kms away, but was shocked at how expensive a monthly membership was.
So what COULD I do. As much as I wanted the freedom to go for a run from home whenever I wanted, I knew that it was going to be difficult. The roads have numerous potholes and drains you need to jump over, squelchy mud patches, crazy traffic from the cars, boda bodas (motorbikes) and matatus (local buses) and dirty exhaust fumes that could burn the nostrils. I quickly learnt that the matatus rule the roads here… well, and the footpaths and you certainly don’t want to get in their way! I had also previously been warned about being chased by local dogs, so all in all I decided against running the streets of Nairobi.
I was however, lucky to have a contact in Nairobi who was also a keen runner. She would go for a run in the local forest every weekend. I was excited! I organized to meet her there on my first weekend and easily caught an Uber. Karura Forest was beautiful! Although there was an entry fee, I was more than happy to pay it to have a safe and scenic place to run.
Stair runs are also a good cardio workout and a great replacement for running. I am lucky to live in an apartment block which has five flights of stairs. Now normally I wouldn’t claim having stairs as being lucky, but needing to be resourceful I see them as an asset to my fitness and not so awful after all. I have already done one session going up down for 20mins and trust me, it’s a good workout! I also decided to buy a yoga mat to do some stretching, yoga and core work at home. In the past, I have used different YouTube videos to take me through a workout. It’s cheap and effective and can be done at any time. So I have ticked my cardio and flexibility box, now how do I integrate strength training into my regime.
In my gated apartment block I found a semi-high garden bed wall… perfect for some step ups! I then used another space to do some walking lunges. By this time I had drawn enough attention from the local kids who thought it would be fun to join in. They had me piggy backing them one at a time and I thought well, this is good weight training! I do plan on attending the local gym once a week on a casual basis though, and this will be more cost effective than paying a monthly membership. This will allow me to get one structured weight training session in per week and not have to rely on the local kids as my dumbbells.
So as hard as it can seem when you relocate to a new country, if you think outside the box you can find a way to stay fit and active. It may be very different to what you’re used to home, but it’s all a part of the experience and I believe that it will help you settle in more quickly and possibly create new friendship networks.