Your health in your hands: Municipal Health Facilities and Documents

healthIn my previous articles in this magazine, I have explored the challenges of accessing and receiving quality treatment while abroad.  Being as healthy as possible is key to a successful posting abroad.  One of expats’ main concerns about moving to a capital city is whether the environment and lifestyle will render you unhealthy and/or unfit.

Check out your level of fitness better at http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/Fitness/Pages/Fitnesshome.aspx

Soviet Moscow established a network of Parks of Rest and Culture, designed to encourage workers to get out for some fresh air and exercise to maintain the health of the population; and recent investment means that keeping fit in Moscow has never been so easy. Most residential buildings have a children’s playground (detsky sad) and local shale basketball or tennis court, doubling as a 5 a side football pitch. This heritage remains important and recently a directorate for the Development of Recreation and Leisure Parks of Moscow (Mosgorpark) was set up in 2011 to invest in the recreation industry and increase responsibility for the results of the work of parks, museum estates and museum preserves.

health1The medical profession knows that the success of a fitness programme depends on how interesting and enjoyable the chosen activity is.  What is bliss for Peter can torture for Paul.  But the good news is that most sporting interests are catered for in both informal and formal settings.   This article explores the opportunities available beyond the scope of the existing expat clubs.

One of the charmingly bureaucratic challenges of Russia is the requirement for a Spravka before you can access or participate in community activities. Before we even arrive in Russia, most of us have submitted ourselves to a raft of medical tests for anything from intestinal worms to HIV, in order to provide the supporting documentation (Spravka) to accompany the visa application form.

The other factor that can affect expats’ enjoyment of municipal recreational facilities is the Russian cultural expectation that the facilities are structured rather than open and visitors are expected to practice or train, rather than ‘enjoy’. Thus swimming is expected to be done in lengths, rather than the informal ‘splosh’ sessions that are commonplace in the West.

healthsPrivate gyms, spas and clubs offer the expat a chance to participate without constraint or a spravka, but at a cost. If you do decide to join a gym, check out all the contract options. For example at http://www.hardcandyfitness.com/en/, the 10 month contract includes several training sessions whereas the annual contract only includes one.  Many hotels have private fitness clubs, so if the gym or pool is your thing, check out our listings on page xxx.

We recognise that many expats now arrive on less generous or local contracts, so here is a guide to keeping fit without forking out a mortgage…

Several locations in Moscow are informally known for regular activities such as martial arts classes and dancing on the embankment. As soon as the sun comes out, large groups of people appear with music systems and amplifiers and impromptu sports activities take place.

Following the development of Gorky Park in 2011 to offer summer and winter sports and recreation, the winter of 2012 saw the results of the city’s investment into municipal sports and leisure facilities. This winter Sokolniki and other parks featured skating rinks, slides and ice sculptures and more is planned for the summer. Free classes are dotted around the parks offering roller blading or table tennis.

health3Plans are afoot to develop dedicated cycling lanes by 2016, but in the meantime the embankment along the river from the Kremlin past the Olympic stadium Sparrow Hills to Kievskaya offers a safe round circuit for cyclists and roller bladers. Other cyclist friendly locations include Ostankino Park at VDNKh and Krylatsky hills and the embankment on the 229 bus route between Molodyozhnaya and Krylatskaya metro.

Swimming and fitness training present a separate hurdle. Despite the plethora of municipal health and fitness facilities on offer, many of these remain unused by the expat community because of seemingly bureaucratic hurdles before you an access them.

The intention of the Spravka is laudable. The certificate that is issued states that the bearer has been checked for and confirmed free of gastro-intestinal parasites such as worms and skin infections such as warts & verrucas. Whilst we would all like to be reassured that no one with a verruca or gastro-enteritis is using the facilities when we are, the reality is that these are only reliable for the day the tests were done. The certificate is then valid for 12 months from the date of issue – meaning that the certificate is effectively predicting that the bearer will have no conditions affecting their fitness to use the pool during the following year!

Various expat blogs recount often hilarious stories of trying to use local polyclinics to obtain the spravka.  For these reasons a simple Google search will generate several websites offering spravka services.

For details of municipal facilities in your area, please see the list on pages in this magazine.