Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Uphill Struggle

A Caracas mountain top peaks out through the evening mist

When I first started visiting Latin America in the very early nineties I was struck by the fact that I never saw anyone outside running, or biking. On those very rare occasions when I did see a lone jogger, he inevitably turned out to be a visiting gringo. As a matter of fact, it was considered inappropriate for men to even wear shorts in public, aside from the one-off "football" player. The gyms were sparsely populated by men that looked to be replicating movements from the 1960s' Jack LaLane Show.

Ten or fifteen years later it's all changed; the parks of South America are full of runners, cyclists, bladers and the like. Modern box-gyms are everywhere, as are Spinning studios, and yoga gyms. The Latin population has embraced the pastime of fitness.

The Middle East, on the other hand, is not there yet. In the two years that I've been traveling here I've never once seen anyone running outside, albeit Baghdad is not a 'jogger's city', as my friend jokingly described what he called Insurgent fartliks. The incidence of smoking is through the roof, Middle Eastern men are becoming increasingly fatter, and the cultural diet would make the American Heart Association wince with pain. Unthinkable here is the vision of a women runner, complete with running shorts and singlet. I wonder where we'll be ten or fifteen years from now?

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