Exercise in Peace Corps pre-service training (PST)
Our trainers and doctors stress that exercise is “a major component of maintaining good health” because it helps you “feel more alive, less sluggish, and…[increases] your resistance to disease.” Peace Corps also tells us that it exercise might prevent depression in-site; improve nutrient absorption; improve sleep; and increase energy and stamina.*
In short, in can help you live better and be a better volunteer. Everyone wins. However, finding a time and place is difficult during PST. Being in a new country makes it even more challenging. You have to deal with new (carby) food, new culture, new geography, and new weather.
Nine trainees talk about their exercise routines
We asked our fellow trainees how their exercise routines have been affected by PST. Below, nine of them share their in-country methods and tips as well as the challenges they’ve faced.
My health routine has been a bit altered here in terms of diet, but I think if you have a will to exercise it can be done anywhere. Bring something that allows you to exercise in a small space. I have my yoga mat with me and do yoga in the mornings in my tiny box of a room. I also know people who downloaded exercise videos and do them in their room as well.
I also keep a health journal here where I document what types of new foods I ate and what I did for exercise. I also write about how I felt that day and what may be some factors to the highs and lows I have been feeling, diet and exercise being one of them.
To incorporate cardio I either take a run around my neighborhood and explore, picking places that look interesting but safe, and carry rocks with me in case I encounter a dog.
A lot of people are looking to exercise so it’s good to have a running partner or someone who will just bring over their mat and have a yoga session with you.
I haven’t been able to get into much of a rhythm. Since the time change, I’ve been able to run before training occasionally. Other days I’m able to run right after training before it gets dark.
I’ve been doing Zumba and Insanity, which are things I would never do in the states. Some days I’m able to get a couple workouts in one day, and others I’ll go days in a row without being able to get any exercise. Oh also playing soccer of course! So on average I’m working out probably 5/6 days times per week.
Biggest barriers: can’t run alone, hard to find daylight during the week with our training schedule, sickness, hurt my ankle so I haven’t been able to play soccer much. I have been dealing with the challenges by incorporating exercise that I can do inside even when it’s dark (Zumba, Insanity).
Diet is also a huge challenge. When you eat fried food and zero veggies, it’s tough both mentally and physically to exercise. Luckily, my host family has adjusted a bit and gives me more veggies with my meals now. If I can get a workout in during the morning before all eating all the heavy food, I usually feel much better. Days that I can’t workout, the diet leaves me feeling pretty sluggish.
The routine is difficult because we get back to our satellite community late. Working on a regular basis is tough especially when we are pushed to spend more time with our host families. Because time is an issue so I’ve switched my tactics to HIIT (high intensity interval training). Twenty minutes, thirty minutes and you’re done.
It has been a bit hard for me to find time to exercise. Training is also pretty mentally exhausting for me, which makes it hard to get motivated.
I occasionally go play soccer… [and] run [with friends], but I’ve never been a fan of running. I used to get a lot of my exercise by going on for walks in the park or going hiking and I find that I really miss having access to natural spaces to do that in.
CED vs Health Soccer Series
I have been able to do some physical therapy stretches in my room a few times a week to deal with my back pain, but other than daily walking that is pretty much all I’ve been doing.
So I have been trying to work out regularly since coming to PY (as I did in the states). I joined a gym here…80k [Guarani] monthly [~$14.50], and went four times a week when training allowed (and it often did not, if we got back too late or I had too much to do).
I have also been running a little bit, but don’t find it terribly enjoyable because of the driving culture/terror.
The gym culture is super [different] here and they seemingly don’t clean any of the equipment, so I’m going to try a different gym for the next two weeks we’re in site. I didn’t like the gym I was going to because there was little equipment, it was dirty, and it was frequently really crowded with groups of young men and women sitting on the equipment but not doing much other than looking at their phones and staring at each other.
We have p90x on our hard drive, and [my spouse] has been doing that some as well, and also walking/jogging.
It has been hard to keep a consistent exercise regimen.
- Group runs. [My community] is gorgeous, with lots of options for running loops. A favorite that we have is about 3k-ish, and it’s hilly. Some do in the morning before class, I usually do it on the weekends later in the am or in the afternoon (getting up at 5:30am is always a struggle for me, haha).
- [A fellow trainee] brought a bbg (bikini body guide) PDF from Kayla Itsines, the insta famous workout guru. It’s essentially circuits that you repeat, 7 mins at a time
- [A fellow trainee] brought Insanity!
- Zumba at the training center. [There’s an air-conditioned room that trainees are allowed to use after-hours].
- I always do some yoga and stretching with a stretch band before going to bed.
- Frisbeee! [A fellow trainee] brought a frisbee so one day we went on a group run that ended at his house and played some frisbee. He also brought some workout contraption that he tied to a tree…!
Running is my preferred form of exercise, but the streets of [my community] are often busy with traffic or populated with not-so-friendly dogs. I asked my host brother about safer running locations and he showed me a route through the city that was far more conducive for avoiding dog bites and scary drivers.
When I feel like running in circles for half an hour I utilize the park in the center of our city which surrounds a pond. It’s a beautiful and popular area among locals – one in which I run with friends or listen to music.
On days when I’m not feeling those city vibes I stay in my room where I can peacefully do simple circuit workouts using my body weight, an ab roller and an elastic band.
I just go for a run usually around three miles four or five times a week.
Main barrier so far for me has been time. I just don’t have the time.
Also the weather the first couple weeks was really hot. So I have run a couple times in the morning before class.
— ABC TV Paraguay (@ABCTVpy) February 9, 2017
My diet hasn’t really affected my exercise other than always being full/not feeling like exercising.
Five volunteers recently ran a local 5k. Two of them even won second place in their age group!
A group of us already have plans to run a half marathon in Argentina sometime this year. Some volunteers already in-site run marathons in Paraguay and neighboring countries.
On another note, volleyball is pretty popular with the locals. Sometimes we get a chance to play with them. Also, some fellow trainees have taught classes on boxing and salsa and bachata dance.
Finally, a few trainees have incorporated exercise into their development work. For example, two trainees did a fitness/nutrition lecture following a local Zumba class and a volunteer and some trainees used sports to teach better health and lifestyle habits to children.
- Exercise is possible in PST with a few adjustments.
- Some trainees are doing things they wouldn’t do back home. Some have managed to keep old routines.
- Weather, traffic, and stray animals are big factors.
- Safety is major concern, especially among female volunteers who like to jog.
- Many people have found workout partners to stay motivated or safe.
- Zumba, body-weight workouts like Insanity, running, soccer, and yoga seem to be most popular.
- A good number of people are opting for workouts that can be done in small rooms away from prying eyes, traffic, dogs, etc.
- The carbohydrate-intense diet can affect the way people feel, and by extension, their motivation to workout.
- Local workout culture, gym conditions, and a lack of pleasant hiking/walking spaces are a challenge.
- The training schedule can make it hard to find time for exercise.
- Some trainees are teaching exercise classes to their colleagues; others are using exercise to facilitate health education.