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Getting fit in Vietnam

Sunday, July 14, 2019, 11:07 GMT+7
Getting fit in Vietnam
Going to the gym is a trend in Vietnam. Photo: T.T.D. / Tuoi Tre

I think it’s mad to see expats jogging in a heatwave next to a dangerous and busy Vietnamese road. They look like they are going to have a heart attack. Or worse; get hit by phone texting parents moto’ing the kids to school. Nothing healthy about that, hey?

Surely there are better ways to get fit than risking your life running around the Vietnamese landscape. Yet expats and tourists love to scoot, pedal, run and wobble on bikes where you never know what’s around the corner and the locals are not expecting Lycra-clad foreigners sprinting towards them. Far madder too is the idea of marathons in summer and ‘hash harrier’ running clubs from pub to pub.

I find it fascinating that women tend to do yoga while men do more physical activities like football to stay fit in Vietnam’s high humidity climate where you can simply sweat off the weight when you leave the house. Yep, twisting yourself into embarrassing positions on a mat in front of strangers is surely to add years to your lifespan and slamming into others while trying to kick a ball will do wonders for your knees in later life also. At least that’s what they claim when they hobble into the coffee shop the next day.

Mind you, I do get the idea of getting the old joints moving as you get older.

Even though I hate exercise and sport in general, I do acknowledge the health benefits; particularly now that I’m sixty-one years old. With some great reluctance I’ve started to take up home exercises for my back and legs as I sit too often for long periods of time at the computer. I do some squats, lunges and use a pair of bricks for some light weight training. I hope it’s working but I might smash my mirror at some point.

People jog in a park in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

People jog in a park in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

I did try a local gym but quit horrified at the number of young Vietnamese strutting around the place hoping to get the female office workers to notice them while jogging on the running machine. Now I’m not sure if this is all that healthy as people tend to do this early in the morning when their bodies are struggling to get moving or the mid-evenings when everyone’s exhausted from work. Maybe they’re just avoiding the daily parental questions of when they are getting married.

I’m not convinced about the weights either. Is the grandma carting veggies a few miles to the market on bamboo poles across her back fitter than the rest of us?

Cheap or free entry to swimming pools is difficult to find despite 3,000 miles of beach. Is it a cheap excuse by expats not to exercise or a genuine tale of hardship by foreigners who can afford two-hundred-thousand evening meals delivered to the front door? However if you hunt around the villas and hotels or discover someone has a backyard pool, you can find a bargain and make new friends too; much better than the sweaty, smelly, noisy gyms.

What’s marvelous is the increasing popularity of low-impact water-based exercise for older people (like me) during our blistering summers. I’m planning to get into that when I find a swimsuit that hides my middle-age fat brilliantly (patience, Stivi, patience) or sooner if I discover everyone at the fitness classes is uglier than me when we take off our shirts!

What would really help is to eat more Vietnamese food. These days I eat about sixty percent local food and the rest is Western food per week. I’ve lost quite a few kilos this way without breaking into a sweat and I highly recommend this tactic to everyone. The other thing is reducing how much food I actually gobble during a meal. It’s amazing how huge Western meals have become, filling the whole plate and adding French fries to everything is doing more to kill us than anything else, I imagine.

It’s funny too how exercise freaks pig out on lots of fruit drinks and vegan meals yet they’re still adding on the calories. Go figure… In any case, I think it’s better to get a dog and take him for a walk as often as you can. Provided you live somewhere that’s suitable for dogs, this is a nifty way to perk yourself, exercise both you and the dog and show the world you’re a caring person. It sends more signals than a jogger, hey?

Well, it’s time to do my exercise and get something to eat. I wonder if I have any chocolate in the fridge…hmm.

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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