Unfortunately, life in Saudi Arabia is not conducive to a physically fit lifestyle! Especially if you are a woman! It’s next to impossible to get decent exercise on a daily basis, let alone lead an active lifestyle. This has to do with several factors. One, most places are not laid out for people to walk as it’s assumed you will either drive or ride in a car everywhere and two there are cultural and societal factors which weight heavily against women being physically active!
Few women walk more than a few feet outside their homes, they go from house to car to mall/shopping area/corniche and thats about it! It’s pretty much the same scenario for expat women residing on a compound!
Since coming here Ive learned that it’s really just not safe for a woman to walk anywhere other than certain areas designated as areas in which women tend to congregate, such as the malls, corniches and outdoor shopping areas/suqs! A woman walking anywhere else, even walking 1/2mile to the HUGE playground down the block is seriously putting herself at risk of being harassed and bothered and maybe even kidnapped! I am totally not making this up!
As Ive mentioned before, I’ve always lived in urban areas and consider myself rather street smart and used to a pedestrian lifestyle. Frankly, I can’ t even drive (I never needed to learn) because Ive always used public transportation and lived in areas in which it was easy to walk everywhere for everything and I’d like to add that it was really nothing walking 2-5 miles a day! I’d walk from our apartment to campus, around campus, back home (several times a day), walk to the grocery store, shops, etc etc. To top it off I regularly visited the campus gym several early mornings each week!
I was in really good shape, okay maybe not uber skinny but I was quite content with myself and I figured being physically strong and fit was more important than how one looked anyway, right? I could eat almost anything I wanted (within reason of course) and never gain or loose much weight ( think the last time I dieted I was 14!).
Until I came here and then suddenly I found the confining lifestyle a bit of a downer and to top it off, our compound is under construction and is located a bit “further” away from the main drag so it’s us and a LOT of sand and then a Saudi neighborhood like 1/2 mile away. So we have no activity center or fitness facilities (unlike all other compounds) and although we have a nice pool which I swam in almost daily for 2 months it’s now a bit too nippy to swim in (even during the day)and frankly, it’s a real downer walking laps around the compound! <oh and before someone mentions womens-gyms, it’s difficult to find a womans only gym, they are few and far between, expensive and of course you have to GET there so only wealthier women with drivers can really afford to go!>
It’s next to impossible to walk around outside the compound, whether I’m alone with my son or with my husband. Only good thing to having my husband with me is that dudes in cars dont stop and shout things at me in Arabic and the Indian/Pakistani/Bangla workers dont leer, oh and the cops don’t circle to make sure I’m not “up to no good”.
Really, I find it easy to understand why there are many of health problems from lack of physical activity amongst both Saudi’s and expats and women in particular! Amongst the women on my compound for example, depression is pretty common. A lot of women feel confined and most turn to coffee/tea, ciggies, sweets and nap taking for solace. One of my closest friends was Lebanese from South Lebanon (she’s since returned) and she had rather severe depression because of how isolated she felt, other women I know admit to drinking way to much coffee and eating way to many pastries to pass the time! And of course…everyone gains weight!
Ive gained a nice bit of poundage since arriving, I’m not that bad off, but Ive definitely gained and so has my husband and since Ive started to adjust to life here (culture shock/depression has worn off) I feel like I have more energy and Im trying to force myself to walk a few laps around the compound at least twice a day. Of course, it’s no where near what my body was used to, but hey, beggers can’t be choosers now can they?!? Ive also started to cut down on my sugar consumption (esp sugar in coffee and pastries) and just in general eating less in the hopes I at least don’t gain anything else!
I donno, we’ll see how things go! I really wish this country was more physical activity-friendly (the weather is fantastic in winter and I’d love to take a long walk sometime to enjoy it) and that it was possible for me to actually go out and walk around the area we live in or at least, bare minimum that we had decent fitness facilities (which en’shallah by summer we should have) but, right now Im just trying to watch what I eat and am looking forward to April and May in the US and a summer in Iran where I intend to walk as MUCH as I humanly can!