It's me Svetlana.
I am back from Hawaii all fresh and recharged!
For a long time I have been planning to tell you how people stay physically active in Russia. Not that they don't have well equipped gyms there. Now they have everything. However, many years ago, when Russia was still a communist country and going to a gym or jogging in a park would be considered "pro-western", the Russians reserved to easy and affordable daily exercises to stay in shape that often included other people too.
Being physically active and playing soccer or volleyball in a communal courtyard is as natural for the Russians as watching a football game on TV with a group of friends for the Americans. Why? The Russians traditionally lived in large, densely populated apartment complexes. Apartments were rather small, so kids and young adults spent lot of time at the large outdoor communal playgrounds between the apartment buildings. The parents could easily see what the kids were doing from their windows and did not worry they were going to get in trouble. The kids were happy they could spend hours outdoors with their friends. This is a photo of a typical Russian communal courtyard and a playground:
In the courtyard the kids would play soccer, volleyball, dodge ball, badminton, ride a bike with a group of friends, jump rope (girls), play seek and hide, or chase each other. Active theme group games like "The War", played mainly by the boys, are also popular and involve lots of running, crawling, and wrestling.
If there is a school stadium nearby, the young people would run, play soccer or basketball, do some pull-ups and pushups, or play tennis.
During long Russian winters people exercise both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors: cross-country skiing, skating at a communal skating rink, playing hockey, snowball fights, sleds. Indoors: calisthenics and floor exercises, aerobics for women and girls, pushups, pull-ups, dumbbells, kettle bells, table tennis, hula-hoop, abdominal exercises. People with money often have fully equipped gyms and work out regularly without living their homes.
Kids and youth often enroll in various sports clubs (not uncommon parents enroll kids starting from early childhood to keep them occupied and off streets and they continue to attend for many years thereafter): sports clubs can be anything from track and field to karate and tennis. The Russians call the sports clubs for kids "sports “sections” and clubs for adults "clubs", and they extremely popular and booming, especially these days, with the resources and equipment more available.
School and public education sources have always been instrumental in supporting and encouraging the mass sports. PE is an important part of a school curriculum, with mandatory classes at least twice per week for all school ages.
Everything is based on the idea of social interactions, fun, spending time with friends or relatives. Individual sports play fewer roles in general, than group sports. Even bodybuilding among young men is viewed frequently as a group activity, and takes place in common areas.
As you can see, the Russians often do not rely on gym memberships, expensive equipment, or personal trainers. They would use anything: an old soccer ball, a rusted bike, volleyball net which has seen better days, and they would share dumbbells and tennis rackets. Key words: FRIENDS, FUN!!!! They have fun with it! It's quite different from a NECESSITY!!! It's a LIFESTYLE.
As I told you, spending time outdoors with friends is very popular ad practical for kids who are raised in otherwise crowded households. In along run, it pays back with a habit and desire to spend as much time outdoors as possible, in any season. The Russians simply LOVE to spend time outdoors. To get out of the house is the must. The idea to "breathe fresh air" (which more often than not is not that fresh!) is very important. Couples would take daily lengthy walks (can be as long as 2-2.5 hrs). Married couples with children would always bring the children along, and frequently make them walk, not ride in a stroller.
No matter what season, people would dress nicely for a walk. Women put on sexy shoes, skirts, dresses, and men wear the best casual outfits they have. A long daily walk is a perfect time to show off and see other people. On warm evenings in a spring, summer, and fall streets, parks, and recreational areas of Russian cities, towns, and villages are crowded. People of all ages walk for hours! They don't think "workout" (even though an hour walk in high heels probably burns at least 250-300 calories). It’s simply a lifestyle.
In America we don’t socialize with our neighbors, don’t visit friends on a daily basis, so there is no external motivation to keep moving, and nobody to spend free time with. The Russians don’t work less than we do here, but the moment they leave work, they submerge into a “boiling” social life, and the routine lifestyle assumes some types of physical activity as a way of socializing.
You will ask: why then the life expectancy is much shorter than here? There are many reasons for this: bad ecology, poor traffic laws and frequent road accidents, and less than adequate medical care, still often lacking medications and equipment. Smoking (lung and throat cancer, COPD), drinking alcohol (liver, accidents), and eating smoked meat and fish (colon cancer) also don't help. I think that if the Russians manage to get rid of 25% of these health risk factors and keep as physically active as they are traditionally, their life expectancy would double!