I would consider myself someone who sits more on the ‘active’ + ‘healthy’ side in the spectrum of life, but until I lived in Berlin, I didn’t quite ‘get’ what living an active life meant.
By living an active life, I mean someone who embodies movement more than stagnation. Where movement is part and parcel of daily living and not a chore to complete and tick off the to-do list.
Yeah, I would hit the gym, and do my yoga, and drink my green juice, but those were things that I did in order to be and remain healthy. But when living in Berlin it became clear just how little I actually embodied a true active lifestyle.
Here’s what I learned.
Walking is a way of life
Any true blue Malaysian knows just how much we hate walking. And I’m not exaggerating. We fight to park our cars as close as possible to our destination. We will drive our cars to a location five minutes away. We would literally drive everywhere if we could. And I understand this, Malaysia is really hot and humid. Walking isn’t that much of a pleasure - unless it’s inside a big, air-conditioned mall.
In Berlin, walking is a way of life. Or cycling. Sure people have cars too, but for the most part, parking is difficult so people prefer to take public transportation and walk. Walking 20 minutes to your destination is considered close. It isn’t a chore. It’s just something you don’t complain about and just get to doing. Sure the weather is nicer at times, but people even do it during summer (when the weather can hit 33 degrees celsius), during the height of winter and even if it rains. Which brings me to my next point.
You go out - rain, snow or shine
Because the weather shifts so quickly, and so much of a year is spent in the cold, people go out into nature come rain, shine or snow! You see tiny children all bundled up, tottering around in the snow because, “It’s better than being indoors all day!”
People go out into nature for walks, strolls, for running or just to get a bit of nature in their lives. I’ve been known to skip events in Malaysia because of a little rain - even if I’m driving! Here, I just make sure I have the right clothes and off I go. A little rain doesn’t hurt you. In fact I’ve changed my view on the weather. It really doesn’t matter, unless it’s raining cats and dogs and you’re out of umbrellas.
Working out isn’t just at the gym
Though gyms also have tons of members here in Berlin, it isn’t the only place people go to get fit. There are beautiful parks in every Berlin Kiez (neighbourhood) and people are out running, walking their dogs, playing frisbee, slacklining, and anything else they can think of doing outdoors. It’s very refreshing!
Stairs aren’t a problem
I live on the fourth floor of my building - and it doesn’t have an elevator. Someone said to me once, “You’ll get used to it!” after I protested this ‘unfairness’. And guess what? I did get used to it! And it means I get a workout every single day whether I want to or not. My record number of stairs climbed once (according to my FitBit) was 70 floors in a day! Tell me that’s not going to firm up your behind and strengthen your legs!
Everyone climbs stairs here. Many of the u-bahns (metro here) don’t have escalators, so people are constantly trudging up and down stairs. These days, I skip the escalator even if there is one! It’s just easier and faster to take the stairs.
Balance is a right
Berliners (and most of Europe) are big believers in balance. Shops are usually closed on Sundays to give people time to spend with their family and friends. Work doesn’t go on till super late so people have time to relax. People are encouraged to go out and spend time in nature by making outdoor spaces as inviting as possible. People are given at least a month off from work, time to recuperate from a pregnancy, and other opportunities that can create a life worth living.
All this just showed me that I wasn’t truly living an active life. Most of my time was spent sitting and not in movement. Now I spend a lot of time moving. I don’t think much of walking almost everywhere. And while I spend less time at the gym, I feel much healthier. I still do yoga and work out, but it’s not just something I have to check off my list, just part and parcel of a life of movement!
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