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Get on your bike….why the Dutch and Belgium’s aren’t fat even with a diet of cheese, chocolate and beer

Posted Sep 21 2012 1:09pm

With a long 7 hours on the train the other day travelling from Bruges, Belgium to Nuremberg, Germany I was feeling a little lazy and looking forward to a run upon our arrival. My husband and I are by no means the laziest or unhealthiest of travellers. I made him walk the 20 mins to our accommodation from the train station in Bruges, even though we were carrying at least 20kg on our backs, instead of the bus as I said it was good for us. We went for a 40min run in Utrecht because we hadn’t done any exercise besides walking around looking at the sites. And I will make us “HANGRY”, you know the feeling when you start getting angry because you are so hungry (hungry + angry = HANGRY), because I haven’t had enough vegetables in the last couple of days and just wanted a decent salad. I know I can be a pain in the ass travelling however I want to feel energetic, happy and healthy enough to withstand any challenges that may present themselves along the way.

So no matter where I am or what I am doing, followed by my husband and our happiness, our health is my number one priority. So when we are on our travels I am always looking to other cultures to see in what ways I can make our lives happier and healthier. France taught me to enjoy the moment and that everything is fine in moderation. When they drink, they enjoy the odd glass or two of good quality wine but the real reason for sitting at a bar and cafe with a group of friends is to converse. A French lady once told me that the French often come up with a list of discussion topics before meeting up with their friends. They want to stimulate their minds, not their livers. When it comes to food, French food is usually always rich. They have a love affair with fat, cream and cheese. But very few have weight problems. Instead they look for the best ingredients, indulge only a little, ensure portion control and take their time to enjoy the flavour and textures whilst aiding digestion. As someone who used to shovel food, I now take my time with a meal, savour the flavours and have started to learn the art of eating until I am satisfied, not until I’m full.

One thing the French do, which was also prevalent in the Netherlands and Belgium is that fewer people commute via cars in the major cities. Approximately half the population of Belgium and the Netherlands have cars compared to two thirds of Australians . Public transport networks are much better than in Australia and there is also a culture of using yourself to get from A to B whether on foot or by bike or a mixture of public transport and self travel. You will also find it hard to locate a gym in most major centres. They do exist but unlike Australia there is not a huge Fitness First, Virgin Active or new 24 hour gym around every corner. Because why do you need a gym if you are walking and riding everywhere. Even our friends who do own a gym membership and live in Utrecht, Netherlands still ride everywhere.

There are obvious reasons for the high use of bicycles in the Netherlands in particular. A conversation my husband had with a local touched on this very subject and he was told how the Dutch learn to ride from a very early age and because of this they are very aware of cyclists. There is no need for helmets because the majority of roads have dedicated cycle paths and cars must give way to cyclists. This awareness and accessibility to a safer cycling environment is something we are yet to master back home. Motorists are often disgruntled by cyclists on major roads, cycle paths are usually limited and the distances required to commute within capital cities, particularly for work, are often greater.

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Although federal, state and local governments are doing more to encourage Australian’s to use more public transport and the use of cycle ways the rates of people classified as overweight or obese is still high. And it’s not just my general observation that countries like France, Belgium and The Netherlands don’t seem to have such a problem with overweight and obesity levels in comparison. A report released by the World Health Organisation in 2011 stated that the percentage of 20 year olds with obesity was at around 25% in Australia compared to around 16% in France, Belgium and The Netherlands. Whether this is linked primarily to their walking/cycling ways, I can not say. But they seem to be doing something right. Maybe it’s not even access to environment which lends itself to a walking/cycling way of life that is the problem. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, whereby you can’t change the habits of a population without changing their way of thinking.

But I am trying to change my way of thinking and like the people of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, I am making a greater effort to use my legs to get arounds as opposed to my car. This year I walked to and from work most days and found that by doing so I have managed to go from a 6 day a week, an hour a day gym habit to only 3 sessions a week (intervals one day and resistance based circuits the other two). And you know what, not only do I feel better for it but my waistline agrees with this kind of lifestyle. Therefore when i get home I plan to continue to walk or ride instead of driving whenever I can and hopefully this post has inspired you to do the same thing!

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Trying to eat healthy whilst travelling over the past week and a half!

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Even with all the walking we have still been going for runs, like this one through the English Gardens in Munich


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