How to Stay in Shape while Working in the Middle East

Staying fit and healthy while living in the Middle East is a challenge especially if you are new, unfamiliar with the food available, culture and environment. It can be overwhelming. In Oman, locals love to eat shawarma, yogurt, flavored rice like Biryani or Mandi and a lot of sweets! I love the flavors of the food. I also noticed how abundant the dairy products at a lower price like cream cheese, milk, and chocolates. Okay, I became addicted to those. And honestly before I didn’t care about what I was eating as long as I feed myself and I don’t exercise. I loathed the idea of doing exercise. I was lazy and was contented laying on my bed after work. I felt like I am always tired from work and sleeping was the best thing to do. My life was sedentary.

Things hit me off when I struggled with bad skin, and my weight went up to 7- 10kg. People would quip me “Do you have chickenpox?” “You are gaining weight big time!” Well, it hurts, and for some reason, you will think what went wrong? I was always slim, but when I hit before the age of 30s, I noticed my metabolism gets slow. It was a wake-up call for me to make a change and start living a better and healthy lifestyle. I just realized I need to take care of myself especially I am living alone in a foreign country away from my family.

For some people, the decision to be healthy and fit can be intimidating. Some might think it is equal to eating only vegetables and being expensive. Geared up with all the information I got online, and from friends, I started eating better food and veered away from my old habits. It was hard at first. It was a real struggle until I made the commitment to myself to start eating better.

What are the advantages of being healthy and fit? Being physically active helps relieve the stress of being in a new environment. It will improve your mood, help you sleep better and have more energy to do your routine. You look better from the outside and become happier, healthier and stronger on the inside.


So here is the list of what I’ve learned on how to stay fit and healthy while living or working outside of the country:

1. Find a fitness buddy

One of the things I’ve learned to stay on track is to find a partner no matter what is your choice of exercise. It can be your colleague or new found friend; these people will push you to stay on the top of your fitness goal.

2.Walk or Run

Every country has a different culture. Orient yourself with the new place. Be familiar with the country you are living. In a country like Oman, people are conservative, and adjustment is a must. If you wish to run, it is advisable to wear something loose. Dress in modest. Find a safe area to run. Do it with friends and colleagues. The best season in Gulf countries like Oman is from November until April so take the chance to be out and enjoy the good weather. Adjust your running time according to your work schedule. Run 2-3 times in a week. Or have a chance to walk at least 30 minutes every day.

3. Join a race

Grab an opportunity to participate in a marathon or any activities if there is to your place. Explore the regular activities to your new country that the locals or expats do and participate.  By doing this, you get the flavor of the country and also gain new friends.

Diverse community of expats in Oman


Marathon held in Muscat, Oman joined by Filipinos and other expats last January 2017.

4. Find fitness places like gyms or sports complex in your place

Explore your area for possible fitness place you can go on a regular basis. Gyms are everywhere in the Middle East.There are gyms/ sports centers in a co-ed atmosphere and fitness centers exclusive for the ladies. It isn’t surprising to have separate fitness centers for the males and females as it is a usual scenario in countries with a conservative culture. 

 5.Do home workout as much as you can

If gyms are hard to find or expensive, why not try the home exercise. Try exercise to be part of your daily routine. Give at least 15-30 minutes of your time. Schedule your workout and do it 2-3 times a week. There are thousands of videos you can find online, which is the easiest and most accessible thing to do. Find a way to be active every day.

6.Do outdoor activities

Go hiking, biking or swimming. Find an activity that is readily available to the place you are living. Oman is rich in raw natural beauty. It is a fantastic place to explore the mountains, oasis (wadis) and the beaches. Grab the chance to check the nature while keeping yourself fit and healthy. 

Swim in Qantab Beach, Muscat, Oman.


Go hike and swim in Wadi Shab, Oman.


6. Prepare and cook your food

If you are new to the country, you want to try everything and resisting the temptations are the hardest thing to do. But be reminded you have all the time to try and explore the different food of the country you are staying. Explore the market or the nearest grocery shop and look for healthier options. Cook your food as much as possible.  Immerse yourself in the culture by incorporating a healthy version of the food. Sometimes fruits and vegetables are cheaper than the pizza or ice cream. In Oman, vegetables like cucumber, carrots, and olives are cheap. Take advantage and eat real food.


Why not bake the chicken instead of frying it?


Arabic salad with hummus (chickpeas), a healthier option if you want to eat out.

7. Find a balance to what you eat

Eat in moderation. If you are going to eat big unhealthy lunch, you might as well consider eating a small healthy breakfast and dinner. Learn about portion control.


A healthier version of home cooked pasta. Pasta loaded with tomatoes and olives.


Although living outside the country denotes lifestyle change, never compromise your health and body. Make time to develop healthy habits no matter where you are. Establishing a routine is an important key if you want to stay fit and healthy.

Any additional tips on how to stay in shape while out of the country? Share in the comments below.

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