If you’re used to regular gym visits and enjoy a gluten-free or vegan way of life, this may prove a little harder when you move to Mexico. Although the country has a wealth of varied delicious food, exercise and healthy eating are not priorities for many Mexicans. That said, there are plenty of ways to ensure you stay healthy while in your new home.
From activities and events to simple changes in lifestyle, these tips and advice will help expats to balance a busy working life with a healthy lifestyle.
Free facilities are your friend
You may be offered a gym membership through work, but if not, paying for a private membership can be costly. However, free open-air gyms are everywhere, so venture to your local park and use the metal gym equipment.
Many of the parks also have running tracks around the edge, such as Bosque de Tlalpan near Mexico City. Use these for keeping fit as well as taking in the plentiful sunshine you’ll be fortunate to enjoy while living there – unless it’s the rainy season between May to November!
Make sure you’re covered
Healthcare is provided by the Federal State of Mexico for Mexicans who do not have formal employment. The system, called ‘Seguro Popular’, was brought in in 2012. Seguro Popular means Popular Health Insurance, so covers those who cannot afford private healthcare. It also has helped reduce the cost of some treatments. However, Mexican healthcare is still a mixed system, with employers covering some employees and others having individual private insurance plans. So, rather than take the risk and leave yourself vulnerable, you may want to discuss health insurance with your employer. Alternatively, it can be wise have some kind of international health insurance plan in place to ensure you’re fully covered and to give you peace of mind.
Use your ‘comida’ wisely
A leisurely two-hour lunch – called comida – is a daily event. What’s not to love about drinking beer and dining on the amazing delicacies the country has to offer? However, if this is your only time to squeeze in some exercise, cut down your lunch break and hire a bicycle. Bike riding is a growing trend in Mexico City, especially on Sundays when the streets are closed to allow safer cycling or skating for everyone. There are plenty of bike hire companies, but the government scheme ECOBICI has stations across the city (444 in fact) where you can take a bike for 45 minutes and drop it back to one of the stations as many times as you like. You must be a member, which is a small annual cost, but then the first use per day is free, with subsequent trips costing only a few pesos.
Drink bottled water – and lots of it
Staying hydrated is key to staying healthy and there’s no place where this is more of a rule than Mexico. No one wants ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ so drink the cheap and readily available bottled water, unless you work or live in an environment with a filtrated system you know to be safe.
As well as water it’s probably best to avoid the ice too – so even the ‘gringo’ margarita is made with crushed ice that could leave you feeling rather poorly. Stick to bottled beers like the natives or try the traditional ‘Pulque’, an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of agave plants! If you’d prefer a non-alcoholic drink, try:
- a frozen horchata made with rice milk and rice-based ice-cream (vegan friendly)
- hibiscus tea
- tomato juice
- atole, a warm drink made from a type of corn flour with vanilla and cinnamon – perfect for chillier winter nights
Learn a new skill
Many Mexicans enjoy learning new skills through classes. Although you may view them as exercise, the emphasis is on the skill of self-protection, as many are concerned about crime and safety.
Often classes are held outside in parks, such as Mexico City’s Viveros de Coyoacán. Here you’ll see ‘El parque Papagayo’ groups of people taking part in a martial arts class or fitness class during the day.
Pilates is also popular, as is Zumba. Martial arts like Taekwondo, and boxing are also keen pursuits. You may even find pole-dancing classes in some areas.
The mouth-watering Mexican cuisine
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the amazing, colourful food there is on offer in Mexico. Remove the thoughts of TexMex and embrace an array of dishes offering taste explosions such as tostados, pambazos and quesadillas.
You’ll have to work a bit harder at finding vegan or vegetarian cafes and restaurants. It’s not such a common lifestyle choice in Mexico as it is in other countries, and Mexicans tend to stick to traditional dishes like chilaquiles (fried corn tortillas), frijoles (beans) or pozole (a stew). But they do exist and it’s a growing trend, so ask around and discover the dishes that locals are enjoying.
Look for ceviche, which means ingredients, often fish, marinated in lime juice, and try to avoid refried options, tortillas or creamy choices (like many of the pork dishes.) If you’re looking for healthy eateries outside of the Mexican variety, go for Japanese.
Make full use of the variety of cheap, locally sourced produce from the markets. If you buy from the stalls outside the main market it can be even cheaper still. Check out the Xochimilco market if you’re in Mexico City or Mercado de Benito Juarez in Oaxaca. Look for nopales or Flor de calabaza (courgette flowers), chayotes or chiles poblanos (squashes) and try new herbs like epazote, mejorana or pipiza.
Mole – meaning chocolate – is popular and you may be served desserts laden with it. We all need a little treat now and then, and you couldn’t call yourself an honorary Mexican without the odd churro!
Working in Mexico and staying healthy is not only possible, but if you take on board these tips, it will become second nature.