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Exercising On Vacation

How to stay in shape when you travel

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Updated June 27, 2014

Each time I prepare for a vacation, I pack my workout clothes, resistance bands and other workout gear wondering - Will I really exercise on vacation? Isn't the point to take a break from real life?

Getting away from reality is good for the soul, and getting away from the usual workout routine is good for the body. However, a vacation can be the perfect time to exercise. By freeing yourself from your routine, you open your mind to new ways to move your body, have fun and keep your body fit while you're on vacation.

Cardio

If you want to maintain your cardio endurance while having fun, there are a variety of vacation that will give you a great workout without feeling like exercise. Some of the best workouts include:

  • Walking on the beach. Walking in soft sand is a killer workout and burns more calories than walking on flat ground. Some experts suggest that you can burn twice as many calories walking in soft sand. Keep it safe by wearing shoes (you may get shinsplints if you go barefoot for too long) and going for a few minutes at a time to get used to it. You'll be surprised how hard it is.
  • Beach volleyball. You can burn more than 150 calories an hour, depending on how hard you work and it's a great way to meet other people at the beach while having fun.
  • Surfing, swimming and snorkeling. Surfing is a total body workout that will challenge every muscle in your body. Even if you just paddle out to the waves and fall off (like I do), you'll get a great workout. Snorkeling is a bit more leisurely, but you can add intensity by swimming a little harder. If you're at a beach that doesn't have big waves, put on your snorkel gear and swim out and back for a few laps to get your blood moving.
  • Leisurely bike rides. Long bike rides are a great way to see the area while getting in some low-intensity exercise. If you take your time and go all day, you'll burn calories without even thinking about it.
  • Hiking. Anytime you add elevation to your walks, you'll burn more calories. If you carry a backpack, you'll challenge yourself even more, all while enjoying a little nature. Check with your hotel concierge to see about hiking adventures nearby or visit Local Hikes to find trails near major metropolitan areas.
  • Golf. Golf can be a dud of a workout if you ride around in a cart and drink beer at every hole. If you want to burn more calories, though, carry your clubs and walk the course. You'll burn around 200-300 calories per hour, even more if you hit every ball into a bunker and add 19 strokes to each hole, like I do.
  • Tennis. Like golf, a game of tennis can be as easy or hard as you want it to be. Chasing the ball and hitting it like you're Serena Williams or Roger Federer will give you a great workout, burning up to 400 calories for a 150-lb person.
  • Shopping. Okay, maybe shopping isn't the highest intensity activity, but it can be very aerobic under the right circumstances. If shopping is your activity of choice, make it count by walking fast, taking the stairs and avoiding fatty foods at the food court.

Lifting Weights

Finding fun cardio activities is easy when you're on vacation. Lifting weights, however, presents more of a challenge. You usually don't have much equipment and the thought of going to the hotel fitness room isn't that appealing when you're trying to have fun.

You don't have to do much, however, to maintain your strength and muscle while you're out of town. A quick workout with body weight exercises, resistance bands or full water bottles will keep you strong and fit until you get back home to your usual routine.

These resources will help you work your body with short, efficient workouts:

If I Don't Exercise, How Fast Will I Lose Muscle and Endurance?

If you decide to use your vacation to rest from exercise entirely, you may wonder what happens to your body. How long can you go before you lose fitness? How fast you lose endurance and/or muscle depends mostly on your genetics, but below are some general guidelines:

  • Aerobic power can decline 5-10% in three weeks.
  • All your gains could be gone after about 2 months of inactivity
  • The fitter you are, the faster you lose your fitness, which doesn't seem fair, does it?
  • You tend to lose aerobic capacity faster than muscular strength. Muscles are resilient and retain a memory of all those exercises you did.

Taking a week off probably won't make much of a difference but, any more than that, and it may be harder to get back to your previous levels. Finding ways to stay as active as you can will keep you fit, help you avoid weight gain and make the transition back to real life a little easier.

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Source:

American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription - "Maintenance of the Training Effect." 7th ed. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

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