Way back in the year 2000, I had a crazy idea (one of many, it turns out). I said to a girlfriend, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could go on a guided running tour when you were away on vacation?” Her response? “You should build that service.” A year later, and after several meetings with a somewhat perplexed loans officer at the bank, the first guided running tour company in the world was born.
Ultimately, we offered in-bound (tours of the city on foot) and outbound (tours for groups to different countries) travel services. What that great little business taught me the most was the importance of keeping up your health routine while on vacation. So, what did I learn from all those folks who stayed consistent while travelling? They planned for their health in the same way that they planned for things like meals, tours of museums, and transportation.
I know, I know, vacations are meant to be relaxing. Typically, holidays are several weeks per year that you are out of your regular routine – and that’s the point, right? But before you think I’m being a fun-sponge once again, hear me out.
One of the things that we need the most to maintain a healthy lifestyle is called automaticity. This happens when we perform a health behaviour so many times that we do it without thinking (e.g., brushing your teeth, buckling up your seat-belt). If you are fighting with yourself to do something healthy it’s not because you are weak or have no willpower, it’s because that thing that you wish to change hasn’t yet become a habit that is automatic. I will be breaking this down in next week’s blog.
A vacation can really torpedo your efforts to establish healthy lifestyle habits. Vacations can not only break your habitual behaviours; they can also make it difficult to get back to your good routines when you return home. Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to move from a mindset of “having a program” to having a way of life.
I love to travel, but I also like to maintain my healthy lifestyle as much as possible. Over the years, I have developed some tried and true strategies for staying healthy on the road. Here are my top travel trips for those of you leaving on vacation this summer and fall:
1. Plan to be active: Um…I might be slightly notorious for eating my weight in sushi, French cheese, ribs, fresh bread, pasta etc. while travelling. One of the best ways that I mitigate the effects of all the wonderful travel food is by staying active. This doesn’t mean hitting the gym or going for a run necessarily; just keeping up daily activity throughout the trip can keep your healthy living efforts in place.
2. Pack a pair of comfortable runners or walking shoes that are dual purpose. You really don’t want to have to pack a fitness “kit” if you can avoid it. Lots of great walking shoes are pretty stylish these days and you can find running shoes that also work well for walking while travelling.
3. Like runners, pack layers that are multipurpose. A plain coloured t-shirt or tank made from wicking material can be used for more active pursuits and then washed and hung to dry for an evening outing. Also, dry fit sports bras are better than ever and can be used for more than just sporty adventures. Just remember, they make towels out of cotton because cotton is highly absorbent. Choose technical fibres wherever possible.
4. Invest in a roll-up water bottle. Roll-up bottles are great to tuck into the corner of your suitcase or into your purse when empty. Staying hydrated while travelling is key to feeling better throughout the trip.
5. Make friends with the walking icon on Google Maps. You can use Google Maps to provide a walking route throughout the neighbourhood that you are visiting. Better yet, book a hotel or Air BnB that is central and walkable to all the sites you are planning to visit. My vacations are entirely planned around how much walking I can do from where I am staying.
6. Ride transit. I know I have recommended this before but its worth repeating. By taking transit on a trip to Seoul last summer I added on several kilometres per day in walking. And seriously, there are so many interactions and experiences that you will only get by riding the local transit. Try it even once per vacation. Pro hack: if you have an iPhone, swipe right to see Google transit departures in real-time and by the nearest location, wherever you are in the world.
7. Use a step-tracker to see how much movement you have done. That magical number of 10,000 steps? It isn’t supported by research. Try to get at least 7500 steps per day. Of course, more is always better. If you’re not interested in wearing a tracker, your phone does a great job of counting steps. In fact, if you have an iPhone, have a look at the health app (the little heart) and choose activity. Yes – your iPhone is always tracking your step count, whether you know it or not.
8. If you are somewhere that will make it difficult to be active, get creative in your planning. After taking multiple cruises, I would argue that there is no more perfect setting to sabotage your healthy living efforts than a cruise ship. Like everyone else, I want to enjoy everything a cruise has to offer (including the yummy food). Because of this, I am very tactical in my planning for cruising.
On regular vacations I plan a few sessions of structured exercise and then rely on lots of walking to maintain my fitness – on a cruise, I plan to exercise in some form every day. This keeps me from going to bed too late or imbibing too much. I usually get off the ship early and walk, hike, or run in every port. Alternatively, many ships have extensive walking tracks, and the gyms and fitness classes on a cruise ship are some of the very best in the world. The extensive exercise programs provide an opportunity for you to try Zumba, or Yoga, or any other fitness class that appeals. A trick to ensuring that you actually go to the classes is to pay in advance (many of the specialty programs have an additional fee).
9. Try to keep one constant in your diet. For me, that’s breakfast. I try to have only one or two cooked breakfast per trip. Super boring, I know, but it’s a small hack that has kept me from adding in way too much fuel that I will never burn off. It’s also so much cheaper to have cereal or oatmeal and fruit in your hotel room.
10. Immediately pick up where you left off. If you fall off the healthy living wagon on vacation, it’s no big deal. The bigger problem is if you use that as an excuse not to get started again. Put your runners at door to remind yourself to go for a walk the first or second day after you arrive home – Yup, you’ll be tired, but jetlag can be managed much more effectively with exercise
I’m just taking some short trips this summer. How about you? Travelling anywhere exotic, exciting, or that you would recommend to others?
Your sister in health,
I am an Exercise Physiologist, a Health Promoter, and an overall lover of movement. Supporting evidence-based healthy aging for women over 50.
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