Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course
One of the first things I noticed here is that the people of the Balkans are in a lot better shape than in the United States.
It isn’t a news flash that in the US, many people are obese or overweight. Here are the brutal statistics:
An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women are obese or overweight. These are also major challenges for America’s children – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from19% in 1980. (source)
So it’s not just “some” people. It’s the majority. And I’m not picking on anyone. I could stand to lose a few pounds myself. However, over here, it’s rare to see people who are significantly overweight. And it definitely isn’t because of a fancy low-carb diet.
Here are some of the lifestyle differences that I’ve noticed that may have something to do with the fact that few people here are significantly overweight.
People are much more active here.
When I say “active” I don’t mean they spend time at the gym pumping iron or jogging at the local track. I mean that it’s simply part of their regular days.
It isn’t that they don’t have cars – they do. But fuel is outrageously expensive, roughly $9US a gallon. So if it’s within a reasonable distance, Balkan people walk. And their idea of “reasonable distance” is not the same as ours here. “Oh, it’s just around the corner” means we will walk about 20 minutes to get to the corner and then another 20 once we’ve turned the corner.
I wish I had my Fitbit because I’m certain I’ve walked at least 5 miles per day and some days, probably more. And it isn’t exactly flat here, either – most of the Balkans are quite mountainous.
Here in the US, businesses are driven by ever-increasing convenience. We have drive-thru restaurants and delivery pizza. If we live in cities, we can use Instacart to have our groceries or a forgotten ingredient at our door within the hour. Amazon brings us whatever we might need. Many stores have an app where you can order what you want, drive your car, park in a space, and message them that you’ve arrived. And don’t forget DoorDash and GrubHub – you don’t even need to leave your house to have a fine meal served to you.
None of these exist on any large scale here in the Balkans. I did see a Burger King in passing while in Croatia but am not sure if there was a drive-thru. If you want to get food here, you must park your car, walk in, order the food, and wait while they prepare it fresh. The bakeries here are considered “fast food” because they’re immediately ready. But instead of burgers and fries, you have a huge variety of bread, pretzels, and pastries stuffed with meat or cheese. Dessert doesn’t seem to be as big a deal here.
As well, parking is rarely convenient to your destination. When we went to the grocery store, we parked in an underground parking lot, traipsed through a mall to the far end, then got our food. After shopping, we then carried our food back through the mall and down two levels to our parking space. Here in the US, of course, we park at the store and complain if our parking space is at the end of the row. Then we push our cart full of food to the car, unload it, and place the cart in a nearby cart corral.
Because the Old Town areas of historic cities were built as far back as the 15th century, parking spaces were not a consideration, nor were roads wide enough for cars. If you want to visit these areas – and trust me, you really do want to visit them – you will park somewhere a few blocks away and then you will walk. These areas are pedestrian only and must be explored on foot. My Airbnb is an easy walk to the Old Town, where I can buy food, baked goods, and trinkets and just generally absorb the atmosphere.
And the stairs. Oh my gosh, the stairs. I have yet to see an elevator (although I haven’t been in a big high rise or anything.)
But it’s nothing unusual to live in a 4th-floor walk-up here. AirBnBs don’t even mention what floor most apartments are on and you may find yourself faced with lugging your suitcases up 5 lengthy flights of stairs. Maybe they aren’t that lengthy but when you are climbing them, you think,” holy cow, are stair flights at home this long?”
Meanwhile (if you’re like me) you try to muffle your wheezing as you struggle for air by the 4th set of stairs while your local friend carries on a casual conversation. Hey, I could pretend to be super-fit like I should be but I want to be honest in the telling of these tales.
All of this is nothing to the locals. They walk as often as possible, they dance up those stairs carrying 90 pounds of groceries, and they MOVE a lot. This isn’t a hospitable place for people who have extreme mobility problems or need wheelchairs.
Nobody is on a special diet here.
In most parts of the US, you can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who is gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, keto, lactose-intolerant, or vegan. (Please forgive me if I missed your favorite thing to omit.)
It doesn’t seem like anyone is on a special diet here. The menus don’t have little heart-friendly or vegetarian symbols on them. It seems far less stressful, frankly. Food is not a minefield of things to avoid.
Maybe it’s because “Big Food” isn’t as much of a thing in the Balkans. Sure, you can still go to the convenience store and get candy or cookies but there are not the big fast food chains (you can find a rare McDonalds in a big enough city) and frozen dinners.
Every meal has bread (delicious, wonderful bread), and meat of some sort, and often potatoes. They might bring a small dish of shredded lettuce with slices of tomato and cucumber too. A great deal of the food is fried or grilled. Everything I’ve had has been tasty and filling.
Another lifestyle trait of note
All the things I’ve written about so far are healthy qualities – but it’s not all old-fashioned good health in the Balkans.
The folks here smoke. A LOT.
You probably remember the days of restaurants with smoking and non-smoking sections here in the US. If you are around my age, you may also remember the bars where everyone could smoke. And also the morning after going to a bar where you reeked of other people’s cigarette smoke.
Here, most of the people I have met are smokers. HEAVY smokers. Obviously is only a handful of people, but still, it’s very common. Many restaurants have outdoor patios which smokers use, but in most establishments, you can also smoke indoors.
Currently, I’m a charming “pension” (motel) on a city square. Last night, I ended up closing my windows because the smoke from outside where people were congregating was so overwhelming. I popped on the air conditioner instead and slept like a baby.
Compare this to our lifestyle in the United States
Really, humans were built to move – but we don’t do it, at least not as we should. Maybe if we adopted more of these strategies we’d be living longer, healthier lives.
Instead of driving from our homes to the elevator that takes us to our cubicles to our stores to wait for our things to be brought to our cars, perhaps we should consider moving more. I know that a take a walk or two every day with the dogs at home, but it’s still not the same as using your feet as your primary method of transportation. My measly 1-2 miles per day at home was okay, but this is better.
Thanks to “Balkan Boot Camp” I plan to continue doing this when I get home. I’ll walk where I can, park further away from where I’m going, and get in more steps naturally.
And if you are lucky enough to visit the region, trust me, you’ll need the extra exercise to burn off the amazingly delicious bread they serve so generously.
Other articles in this series:
- Prepper’s Travel Diary: What I’m Packing
- Prepper’s Travel Diary: Traveling to Croatia
- Prepper’s Travel Diary: It’s a Different Lifestyle in the Balkans
- Prepper’s Travel Diary: Meeting Selco
- The Truth Modern Civil War in Photographs
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.