Gabe Levy is a Practical English for Success (PES) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Bolívar, Colombia.

Having just passed the one-year marker in country, I am familiar with the habits that keep me in the right frame of mind.

I think most volunteers can agree that a good book, a long night of mindless Netflix or a private dance party between me, myself and I can rejuvenate us from those exhausting days in the Caribbean heat. While these methods of relaxation are great for escaping the hassles of our lives for a few hours, they fall short in preserving the physically healthy lifestyle we try so hard to achieve.

In my experience, exercise has given me the necessary relief to keep myself in high spirits and motivated in my work as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Routine exercise goes a long way in maintaining a healthy life, both physically and mentally. While my weekly schedule is jam packed with English classes, co-planning, Saber Once preparation and afterschool clubs, I always try to find at least 3-4 days a week to squeeze an hour in at the gym. I consider it to be essential to my wellbeing here at site.

I always workout with my younger host-cousin, Alfredo. Going to the gym not only gives us time to bond but also serves as a teaching experience. I teach Alfredo different exercises and workout routines. Most gym goers in my pueblo use a pre-set workout routine hung on the wall dating back to the mid 90s; they stick to that same plan every week. I have taught Alfredo a breadth of different drills to isolate specific muscles as well as provided him with online resources so that he can learn on his own. At the beginning, Alfredo was reluctant to come to the gym. But after lots of nagging on my end, I convinced him to stick to a regular schedule. Now as he has improved and works on a solid routine every week, I often find it is him dragging me to the gym!

While my pueblo’s only gym is small and resources are limited, I am able to make do with the weights and machines that are available. Not only do the workouts keep me healthy, but also preserve my mental wellbeing when I’m in a slouch. All volunteers will have slumps in their service. It is an inevitable aspect of the 2 year and 3 month service for which we all volunteered..

Frequent exercise has provided me with the insight that a clean and healthy lifestyle is an essential component of preserving my mental health at site. Our mental health and physical wellbeing go hand in hand. When I have a stable work out routine, I find the quality of my sleep improves, I’m happier overall, and less prone to sickness. Even through the darkest moments of service, I maintain resilience by lifting weights and running. Mental health is such an important aspect of a Peace Corps service. Finding that thing that keeps you happy and resistant to stress is a necessity here. My time at the gym has kept me proactive about maintaining a healthy work life balance. This makes me a more effective volunteer, and thus, a happier Gabe.

Our mission is clear. We are here to serve the people of Colombia, but I think everyone would agree that a little “me time” every now and then is a vital component to our mental health during the extended services all Peace Corps volunteers must undertake.

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