When summer vacations roll around, folks often leave their exercise routines behind with their cares. But studies show that after 10 to 20 days without exercise, most people begin to display symptoms of detraining on all physical fronts. So it's important to couple your travel with exercise, not only to burn off the extra calories a vacation tends to include but also to retain the hard-won fitness gains you've made to date this year.
To incorporate exercise into your vacation plans, try exploring local offerings in your favorite activity. Ask your brother-in-law to take you with him to work out at the gym. Do laps at the pool (or lake). Or call around a new city and find classes in a form of dance you've never tried before.
If possible, travel armed with a compact exercise kit. Mine contains three things: a jump rope, resistance stretch bands and walking shoes. Jumping rope is ideal for getting a concentrated aerobic workout with minimal equipment, space and time. You can squeeze in a 10-minute aerobic burst while your fellow travelers are taking a shower or checking their e-mail. Avoid jumping rope if you have heart disease, Achilles tendon problems, plantar fasciitis or any other condition that makes jumping an issue. For everyone else, it's a great way to fit some aerobic exercise into a day otherwise spent staring at paintings or riding in a car.
Resistance stretch bands are underrated stars in anyone's workout kit. With resistance stretch bands, you can work almost every muscle group in your body, even in a very small space, and — if you quicken the pace — you can use resistance bands to maintain your aerobic fitness as well.
A good brisk walk is almost always possible, even when flight cancelations or talkative relatives conspire to prevent you from going anywhere. Walk the concourse or the stairs. Or ask tourist information, hotel staff or someone with good local knowledge to point out streets, trails, tracks, beaches or malls that are safe for you to walk. Avoid walking in unfamiliar towns by yourself, however. Stick to times of the day when others will be around, and tell someone your route and when you expect to be back. During your run or walk, don't be distracted by listening to music or talking on your cell phone. Remain aware of landmarks and surroundings so you won't get lost. And always carry an ID, the address of your hotel or other lodging, and $20 or so in local currency just in case you need a snack or cab fare back.
An event looming upon your return home can't hurt your exercise motivation while traveling. In the midst of training for an organized bike ride, a business trip forced one of my co-authors on "Faster, Better, Stronger," DeAnne Musolf, to find cycling opportunities on the fly. She was surprised to discover that many hotels in Germany kept bikes for guest use. Concierges kept maps of great regional rides on file. Local cycling clubs she e-mailed in advance in Switzerland were helpful finding bikes and even joined her on rides, while waitstaff at restaurants offered tips on weather and fitting in a ride on a tight schedule, such as riding to a town high in the nearby mountains, then taking the narrow-gauge train back. She found mountain biking tours through commercial adventure companies, and — if all else failed — at most train stations she was able to rent a cruiser bike, complete with a basket and a bell.
Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, is an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-wrote "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, M.D., and DeAnne Musolf. Visit fasterbetterstronger.com.