Relocated Reporting: Healthy habits abroad

Former Living editor Carlene Majorino chronicles her semester in Spain.

Most college students don’t have healthy lifestyles. That’s obvious. From elementary school, they’re trained to be overworked, under-slept, and – more often than not – the American way of life is to blame.
After two and a half years of learning the traditional college lifestyle, I ventured to Oviedo, Spain (on the northwest coast), for a semester, where the people are nicer, trendier and most importantly, much healthier.

Unlike the United States, fat people don’t exist here. Sure, there are people with larger frames and people with beer guts, but the ‘sob-story-from-60-Minutes’ type of obese we probably all know simply isn’t an issue.

In the three weeks I’ve been in Spain, I think I’ve already found out why. There are so many fundamentally healthy things that are part of the Spanish way of life that Americans either won’t, can’t or don’t have time to do – unless, of course, a cheeseburger or a six-pack is involved. For example:
They walk more. Here in Oviedo, everyone walks. Sure, people have cars, too, but they’re used primarily to get to places that are actually far away. Mind you, Oviedo is on a hill steeper than “the Wall” in Manayunk, and some students walk up it for 20 minutes or more on their ways to school every day. Also, a crazy amount of people in Oviedo have dogs, and something that separates Spaniards from Americans is that owners walk their own dogs – several times a day. You won’t find any The King of Queens-like dog walker situations here.

They cook. Spaniards love preparing their own food for many people. I have 16 friends here from Temple, and I haven’t heard one complaint about host mothers who are reluctant to cook for them. And, as most people know, lunch consists of about four courses here, so most complaints I hear are about the meals being too big. Because everyone’s eating home-cooked meals, students’ cholesterol levels aren’t rising with the numbers of classes they miss.

They’re not as ‘on-the-go.’ After eating their home-cooked meals, Spaniards like to take time to digest their food. When people finish eating, they have “sobremesa,” which is synonymous with an after-lunch or -dinner conversation. It’s the hour or so relaxation period following a meal that helps food digest the proper way which in turn makes it OK to eat a chocolate or two afterward. In the same vein, I haven’t seen one person here with a to-go coffee cup.

They don’t work as hard. Before I got here, I’d heard the Spanish work ethic was much different than that of the United States, but I never knew why. One important thing I’ve learned in the last two weeks that makes it much healthier is lunch itself. Instead of rushing to get lunch between classes or ordering something to eat during work, Spanish businesses and schools usually give ample time for people to go home and eat with their families. This means both a healthier meal and more time to re-energize for the second half of the day.

They sleep all the time. The most exotic thing about being in Spain is the fact that everyone’s encouraged to sleep. Spain’s famous for the siesta, which is a short nap after lunch, and people are serious about it. Many shops close for two hours during siesta and open up afterward. In addition, an incredible thing about Spain is the sun doesn’t rise until an hour after every other country at the same longitude. Its time zone is Central European Time, the same as a much more eastern-sitting Germany because Spaniards don’t want to wake up early. The sun rises around 8:30 a.m., and during daylight saving time for half the year, it’s even an hour later. As a result, the average workday never starts before 9 a.m., so you won’t find anyone here waking up at 5 a.m. for work like many Americans do.

One thing that is often said about Spain is the people are always on vacation – and, in a sense, it’s true.

Life moves a little slower here, but this more relaxed way of life seems to work for residents. Somehow, people get the same amount of work done as Americans except, at the end of the day, they’re rested and fed. So, needless to say, it wasn’t a very tough transition.

Carlene Majorino can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Howdy! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to fix this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.