Why staying healthy in Barcelona is much easier than you think

Newcomer May Ponzo has been pleasantly surprised to find that there is a booming fitness and health culture in the Catalan capital, with Pilates studios and vegan options on nearly every corner

A Vietnamese restaurant in Barcelona.
A Vietnamese restaurant in Barcelona.MAY PONZO

If you are moving to Spain and were looking forward to using your new adopted country as an excuse to eat fewer greens and drink more reds, then you might be a little disappointed when you get here.

I can only speak from my own experience, but the more time I spend living in Barcelona and getting used to the local way of life, the more apparent it’s becoming that tortilla and sangría are not the staples.

My friends in London warned me it would be difficult to keep up my healthy lifestyle once I moved to the Catalan capital

I remember my friends in London warning me it would be difficult to keep up my healthy lifestyle once I moved to the Catalan capital. But what they didn’t know is that I was moving to a city with a booming fitness and health culture.

According to a Bloomberg study of 169 countries, Spain is the healthiest nation in the world, and a number of other studies have predicted its residents will enjoy the longest lifespans by the year 2040. These reports tend to give nearly all the merit to the renowned Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, widely touted as being the world’s healthiest. It is believed that its fresh fruit and vegetables, rivers of olive oil and socio-cultural aspects are the reasons behind such longevity.

But what these studies seem to have missed is that many Mediterranean countries have veered away from the traditional diet and lifestyle and have created their new version of a healthy, balanced life. Olive oil is being replaced by coconut oil, a salmon steak by tofu scramble and family meals by on-the-go snacks.

Don’t get me wrong, quinoa and kale have not taken the spot of jamón ibérico or pan con tomate on your menu, but they are fighting for their place. Finding a Spanish restaurant that doesn’t serve crudités with beetroot hummus and avocado toasts as standard tapas has become a bit of a mission.

The very first time I walked down Gràcia, which would become my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of vegan cafés, gluten-free options, organic juice shops and Pilates studios on every street corner. As I strolled around, I felt content that my new home would be able to match what London had offered me in terms of healthy options and activities, but also had to let go of the romanticized idea I had of living an authentic barcelonés lifestyle.

As I explored more of the city, I realized “free-from” food options and gym studios did not just find their home in the hipster Gràcia neighborhood but rather the entire city. I even found a Pilates studio in a small town outside of Barcelona, where finding even a café or supermarket was a challenge.

I once attended an “operación bikini” class, where a group of middle-aged women – who were no doubt fitter than me – were talking about the different flavors available in their seven-day juice diet. I couldn’t help but think to myself, what happened to sharing meals as a family? There is nothing Mediterranean about a carrot-and-ginger juice on-the-go.

So after a few months of enjoying the city and its many different aspects, it became clear that there has been a shift in what we think of the Mediterranean lifestyle and the stereotypes we have attached to it .

There has been a shift in what we think of the Mediterranean lifestyle and the stereotypes we have attached to it

Chatting with the juice-drinking women, I discovered a new version of the Mediterranean resident and her priorities. Barcelona is by the sea, summer is on its way, and so is the bikini body. We are drinking juices for seven days so we can enjoy those fried calamari by the sea, and we are doing all that sport so that we can lay guilt-free on the beach.

We all romanticize the Mediterranean life – the sun, its juicy tomatoes and plentiful oranges. But we also have to let go of the stereotypes we have of it and recognize the evolution that is taking place. So if you are Spain-bound, be prepared to live the authentic Mediterranean life – with a twist.