Debbie and her husband Derin were regulars at our Seattle fitness groups until 2013, Debbie contributed to Fit By Nature and also lead workouts for our training group.
Debbie and Derin, with their son Asher, have since been living in Amsterdam. I wanted to find out what kind of fitness routines and wellness habits they have created in their new city. Last week, we had a chance to catch up.
Q: You've been in Amsterdam for two years now. What are some places you go to enjoy nature in the city?
A: We live a few blocks away from (and consequently spend a lot of time in) Vondelpark, which I equate to Amsterdam’s Central Park. For a city park, it’s quite large (120 acres) and it provides an impressive nature experience, with tons of canals and paths and trees and lots of hidden pockets of beauty, not to mention grey herons, storks, and other birds aplenty. It’s the perfect spot for a quick run around the nearly 5k outer loop, a picnic, or simply a walk through nature. My favorite nearby nature spot is just on the edge of the city—the Amsterdamse Bos. Bos means “forest” in Dutch, and the Bos is a large manmade forest more than three times the size of New York’s Central Park and one of the largest city parks in Europe. It is teeming with trails and is hands-down my favorite place to run. It’s also big enough that I still manage to get lost when I stray from my usual course. While the one thing these city parks don’t have a lot of is elevation—Amsterdam is pretty darn flat—I’m still continually struck by the landscape. It’s incredibly tranquil and beautiful. And of course, these are just two of many parks in Amsterdam…they really know how to do green spaces here. Even smaller urban parks dotted throughout the city are designed in such a way that a visit to them gives you a good dose of green, nature, and beauty.
Q: You're all staying fit. When you exercise and run, do you seek out beautiful spots (parks, tree lined streets etc)? If so, why? How does it make you feel? Does it help your motivation?
A: I’m lucky to be living in city where my runs can easily always involve parks and nature, which definitely wasn’t the case in the last two cities I lived in (Seattle and Los Angeles). Now that I always have access to nature, I absolutely take advantage of it and avoid city running at all costs. I’ve always said that running is my therapy and nature is my church, so I guess you could say that putting the two together for me is the best possible situation. I’m someone who loves to be in the outdoors and in nature… it feeds my soul, grounds me, and always brings me back to a place of gratitude, no matter what is going on in my world. So I stay motivated to running in nature because I know what it does for me. It’s a lot.
Q: Winter is on its way. How do you motivate yourself during cooler, wetter, darker months?
A: I’m an accountability junkie, so making commitments I have to keep is definitely key to keeping me going on those cold, rainy, dark days of winter. I’m a pace leader for a local running club, so I’ve pretty much committed myself toSaturday morning training runs and showing up for Tuesday night speed workouts, no matter the weather. I’ll also make plans with a friend to meet-up for a run at least once a week (I’d never bail on a friend!), and save up some podcasts to listen to for a other workouts so I have something to look forward to.
Q: In adjusting to a new culture, how important has getting outside to exercise been for you, Derin and Asher?
A: For me, exercising was absolutely critical in helping us adjust to our new life here in Amsterdam. Between not knowing anyone, not speaking the language, and trying to support a very pissed off nine-year-old boy who was furious with us for moving in the first place, those first few months were some of the most difficult of my life. My runs became my gift to myself…the one thing I could do where I still felt like myself, still felt competent, still felt like I knew how I fit into the world. Derin got back into running after we’d been in Amsterdam for a year, and I know it was an important part of him truly settling into our life here, too.
Oh, and the bonus is that this is a biking culture, so we bike absolutely everywhere. An outing to a museum or a store or even just running errands has become a sort of exercise. Except for the most intense rainy, windy days when having to bike feels like a form of torture, this has been an unexpected but fantastic reality that has benefited us in many ways.
Q: What are your thoughts on outdoor exercise and creativity. Does running help your work? Do you have any specific examples?
A: I often listen to podcasts while I’m running, and specifically ones centered around creativity, entrepreneurship, and being a changemaker. So for me, exercise and creativity, specifically my work as a writer and creator, is absolutely impacted by my running. I think there’s something especially powerful about moving while trying to solve a creative puzzle or dreaming and scheming about a project. I’ve absolutely figured out many next steps and gotten past creative roadblocks as a direct result of heading out for a run!
Q: In the city, it can be hard to 'escape,’ do you set aside time on weekends/mini breaks to get away and experience nature?
A: I try to get out to bigger parks outside the city when I can, and build-in occasional trips to different parks around the Netherlands to take advantage of a particularly good weather forecast either on weekends with the whole family or sometimes during the week with just my son (who I homeschool). For example, earlier this week I read that yesterday was going to be sunny and sixty degrees, so my son and I ditched our afternoon school plans and headed to Zuid Kennemerland National Park about forty-five minutes away and hiked for three hours. It was pure heaven!
Q: What are some places you've explored?
A: Within Holland we’ve found some fantastic parks, including Zuid Kennemerland and another national park, Hoge Veluwe, which we call the “white bikes” park because there are hundreds of free white bikes at every entrance to use during your visit. We’ve also headed up to Texel, an island in North Holland with wonderful dunes and nature preserves, and the beaches along the North Sea of Zandvoort and Bloemendaal. Because the Netherlands is a fairly small country, most every park is within a two-and-a-half hour drive from Amsterdam. And we still have a lot to explore.
Q: As a foundation for health and wellness, how important is outdoor exercise for you?
A: Outdoor exercise is pretty much the cornerstone of my health and wellness regime. I think I’m allergic to gyms. I would rather run through a blizzard than spend any length of time on a treadmill…
Q: What tips would you have for anyone wanting to adopt healthy exercise habits?
A: I think it’s important to treat every day as an opportunity to exercise and embrace a healthy lifestyle. I’ve seen so many people beat themselves up for missing a few days or weeks and then they throw in the towel, deeming exercise too difficult to stick to. But every day we get to make a choice about how we spend our time. Take it one day at a time and find ways to build in accountability to keep you on track and build in rewards for making good choices.
Lastly, be flexible about how and when you exercise. Preferences change, people get burned out of doing the same thing, seasons change, and that’s all fine and good. I suggest people figure out what works for them, do that until it stops working, and then be willing to figure out a new plan and go with that. There is no one way to be a healthy person who exercises. It's best to personalize it to make it work for you.
Debbie is a best selling author, speaker and life-coach. Her website is www.debbiereber.com
She lives in Amsterdam with her husband Derin, their son Asher and the family cat, Alex.