Living a Healthy Life in Barcelona

The opportunity to work anywhere abroad is exciting, but to have the chance to move to Barcelona can feel like a dream come true. But how will you adapt when this bustling and vibrant city becomes your home? You are likely to be so busy settling into a new job, finding somewhere to stay, and getting used to a new city that maintaining a healthy lifestyle may fall by the wayside.

Its incredible culture and delicious local cuisine might make it hard to avoid feeling like you are on holiday, but this guide will help you to discover some of the best ways to stay fit, healthy, and happy while working in Barcelona.

Food and diet
While many people around the world consider Barcelona to be Spanish, the locals identify themselves as Catalans. Catalonia is not just a distinct geographic region. It also has its own cuisine, flag, capital, cultures and official language, which may surprise visitors and expats alike.

The food is a great example. Where Spain is recognized for chorizo and paella, Catalonia is better known for pork sausage, noodles, and spring onions. Street signs, too, often appear in both languages for instance, but if you only speak Castilian Spanish, you will still be understood and have no difficulty enjoying life in Barcelona.

The famous La Boqueria market might have as many tourists as it does shoppers, but the sprawling marketplace is an essential if you are looking to cook with the freshest ingredients. The quality is so high that many of the finest restaurants in the region also buy from La Boqueria.

As with many locations in the Ciutat Vella (old city) district, Saturday morning is by far the busiest time to visit. This is further exacerbated because the market is closed on Sundays, but persevere, because the deeper you go into the market, the fewer tourists you are likely to encounter.

Fitness without the fuss
As with most major cities, Barcelona is home to a range of modern facilities. Many offer personal training, spin and yoga, but classes will incur additional costs. The gym is a useful option for keeping fit day-to-day, but it would be a shame not to make the most of the city itself: walking or cycling to work is a great way to keep fit without paying for a gym membership.

If you choose to run, the steps and slopes of Park Guell will put your muscles to the test and, while you're getting your breath back, you can enjoy Gaudi's colorful mosaics.

If you decide to cycle in the city, remember that pedestrians have right of way, even if they are crossing a bike lane. Cyclists must abide by designated speed limits as bike lanes are limited to 20kph and pedestrian areas are under 10kph. With cycle routes giving you the chance to enjoy nature and get out of the city, you can keep fit exploring everything from majestic mountain ranges, to the picturesque coastal towns. Alternatively, if you are looking to grab a quick jog before work, Ciutadella Park, in the city centre, is ideal.

Walking routes can offer the chance to explore and discover the numerous areas of natural beauty that lie on the edges of the city. Tibidabo Hill, while beautiful, is often swarming with tourists, so instead of heading up the hill, head down into Collserola Natural Park and its 8,000 hectares of woodland. The park is home to more than 190 varied species including squirrels, foxes, boars, and some 15,000 people who have homes in this natural paradise.

One of the last activities many people would associate with Spain is skiing or snowboarding, but three of the 20 resorts around Spain: La Molina, La Masella, and Port del Comte, are within two hours of Barcelona. These resorts are popular, but much less commercial than tourist traps in France, Switzerland and Austria, making them ideal if you are looking for a more unusual and less crowded way to keep fit. Other unconventional sports available in Barcelona include wake boarding in the Sant Marti region, bungee jumping in Sant Sadurni, and skateboarding by the beach at Marbella skatepark.

Of course, with all this exercise, it is probably a good idea to note where your local doctor is. Aches, strains and pulled muscles are never any fun, but they can be made much worse if you don't know where the nearest hospital is or how to ask for help.

Access to the Spanish National Health Service (el Sistema Nacional de Salud) is dependent on contributions to Social Security. If you are working for a Spanish company, this may be deducted from your wages.

The health service operates some 800 hospitals throughout the country as well as 2,700 medical centers, but there is not an even split among regions. This means that you could be forced to travel for some specialist treatments if they aren't offered locally. Some treatments, including dental, are not covered by state healthcare, so taking out health may help protect against unexpected medical bills.

As is the case with many national health services, waiting lists are a frustrating fact of life, and if you need any type of hospital treatment outside of an emergency, you will need to be referred by a doctor (el doctor). In the case of an emergency, the telephone number for an ambulance (ambulancia) is 061.

Private healthcare in Spain is world class and many opt for it over the national health service. As one third of Spain's hospitals are independent, private care is easily accessible for those living in or around major cities. Expats who are only staying in the country for a short time, could apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which provides temporary access to certain types of healthcare, but it does not replace travel insurance, or cover private healthcare costs.

The card is only available to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. It covers medical treatment expats may need during their visit if they're ill or have an accident. It also covers treatment for long-term (chronic) conditions, existing illnesses, and routine maternity care. The card is free to apply for and is valid for up to five years.

Pharmacies (farmacia), which can be identified by a large green cross, will all handle prescriptions. While the cost is supplemented by the government, the amount you will have to pay depends on your income. If you are of working age and earning over EUR 18,000, you will pay half of the cost. Earning any less, you would be required to pay 40 percent.

Sport in Barcelona
There is more to well-being than exercise and healthy eating. So why not spend some of your spare time relaxing as you take in one of the many sporting events that Barcelona is famous for?

It would be impossible to discuss sport without mentioning FC Barcelona. Not only are they one of the most successful club teams in world football, their stadium is iconic. With a capacity of 99,354 Camp Nou is the largest in Europe. Even if you are not interested in football, it is well worth taking a stadium tour to discover the history, architecture and culture of this incredible structure.

Beyond football, FC Barcelona are also represented in Futsal, Handball, Roller Hockey and Basketball, making them a dominant feature of the Spanish sporting landscape.

The Catalan capital also plays host to a number of huge annual sporting events. These include the Spanish Grand Prix, held at the Circuit de Catalunya, and the Barcelona Open, held at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona. Despite not being a Grand Slam tournament, you are likely to see some stars of the game as Rafael Nadal has won nine single titles there since 2005, and both Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer have been to numerous finals in recent years.

A good attitude to healthy eating, exercise and relaxation is important no matter where in the world you live. But, as long as you take the time to read health guides and plan your stay, Barcelona's incredible local food, amazing cycling routes and a wide range of sports will give you countless opportunities to not just maintain, but further your healthy lifestyle.

Disclaimer: The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. All information contained herein is subject to change.

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