Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Got big travel plans? Here's how to stay in shape and feel great over the long haul.

One of the best things about a vacation in a far off locale is that it whisks you away and lets you forget the daily grind. For a few blissful days, you don't have to think about wake-up times, workout schedules and what to eat or drink… or do you?

Turns out that break from routine is the very thing that can leave you with postholiday regrets. Recuperating from travel fatigue and getting enough exercise often takes a backseat to fun--after all, who wants to be at the gym doing crunches or lifting weights when you can be sitting in the sun lifting Mojitos? Add a few rich restaurant dinners and the gotta-get-energized jetlag munchies to lack of exercise, and you could end up wishing you'd never left when you trade in that elastic-waist grass skirt for fitted pants once again.

The solution? A few easy, preventive measures that can help you feel fit and well rested both during and after your grand getaway.



Doing some cardio exercises every third day burns a few of those cocktail-hour calories and keeps stamina at pre-vacation levels. "You can retain a relatively high level of both aerobic power and strength with just two exercise sessions per week," says William J. Stone, EdD, professor in the department of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University. Shorten the workout time if you want--for example, if you normally jog for 45 minutes, you can scale back to 30 minutes--but don't slack off on the intensity. Another good way to get your heart pumping is to integrate aerobic exercise into your vacation fun. Rent a bike for one or two afternoons and pedal as you sightsee. Try swimming a few laps each time you cool off in the pool, or turn your saunter down the sand into a 10-minute jog. Bring along a jump rope and do three to four two-minute sets, advises Los Angeles-based personal trainer Alison Copeland. "You can jump anywhere, and it's an amazing way to get your heart rate up in a short time," she says. "Plus, I don't know anyone who can't find room in a suitcase for a jump rope."


Got a weight-training program going at the gym? Practice it once a week while you're away. "Strength gains, in the form of stronger muscles, last a bit longer than cardio fitness, but you can lose an appreciable amount in eight to ten weeks," explains John J. Duncan, PhD, CEO and founder of Texas-based Via Scan, a preventive wellness and heart-health center.

If you have a personal trainer, ask him or her to design a travel fitness program using rubber tubing. These giant, stretchy bands are inexpensive, weigh just a few ounces, fold up like belts, are available in a variety of resistances and can be found in the fitness section of most sporting good stores. (Note: if you don't have a trainer-designed regimen to take along, the tubing comes with exercise examples that are safe for most workouts.) Tubing also gives you the freedom to work out in your pj's in your hotel room instead of having to put on fitness gear and go to a gym. Another option is a set of Aqua Bells, collapsible plastic dumbbells and ankle weights that offer up to 15 lbs. of resistance when filled with water (dumbbell and ankle weight set, $80; Or just grab a couple of full one-liter water bottles and use them---one liter of water weighs 2.2 lbs.


Even if you end up taking a break from exercise during your time away, try to avoid letting your vacation be an excuse to allow your regular fitness routine to slip. Return to your schedule the first week you get back so you won't lose strength or endurance. "Ten percent of your cardiovascular stamina is lost after two weeks of not exercising, and after four to eight weeks, you're starting over," explains Duncan. In other words, if you trained for 20 years and then take off one to two months, your aerobic fitness goes back to what it was 21 years ago.



Because the body functions on a 24-hour time frame (called circadian rhythms), small alterations in your sleep schedule can reduce the effects of changing time zones. "Making big changes in sleep cycles is like jamming on the brakes when you're on the freeway. It's much better to switch speeds gently," says Vicki Rackner, MD, one of the authors for Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series. "I begin adjusting my schedule days before I actually have to leave." For example, if you plan to travel east, start going to bed an hour earlier every day and getting up an hour earlier to sync up with the time zone. Rackner also recommends avoiding red-eye flights. "Quality of sleep on a plane is never as good," she explains. You may think you gain a day, but you could end up losing more because of exhaustion.


Sure, you've been told a million times to down eight to ten glasses of water a day, but it's more important than ever if you're getting on a plane to travel long distances. "Staying hydrated while flying is important because dehydration may be linked to jet lag," says Rackner. But consuming your fill of fluids doesn't mean you have to forgo a glass of juice or even a cocktail when the beverage cart comes by. Just ask for a glass of water and whatever beverage you'd like to have. On longer flights make a point of taking water breaks. Water is always available at galley stations in the plane and pouring yourself a glass or two is a good excuse to get up and stretch your legs. Try to drink one cup of water for every hour in the air.


As tempting as it is to hit the ground running at your destination, allow yourself a couple of days to acclimate to a new time zone. It typically takes 24 hours or more to recover for each time zone crossed and you'll enjoy the scenery more if you're not feeling sleepy. Plan busy mornings of sightseeing and long day trips toward the middle or the end of the trip rather than in the first days. To keep from waking up at 3 a.m. (long before you can hit the beach or even order breakfast) and dozing off right after dinner, help your system adjust with melatonin supplements. "Melatonin is produced naturally by the body and regulates sleep patterns without the hangover side effects some sleeping pills may have," explains Vibhuti Arya, PharmD. She recommends taking 0.5mg to 5mg melatonin for two to five days.

Whether your dream vacation centers around tiki lights and tropical destinations or sightseeing in foreign lands, take along these fitness and fatigue-fighting schemes. They'll ensure you get the most out of your great escape and make re-entry into the real world a bit easier to take.


When choosing a carry-on bag, check handle height. Handles that are too short to pull at a comfortable angle put undue strain on shoulders and back.

Is airport anxiety creating extra travel stress? Anne McAlpin, packing expert and founder of, offers the following tips:

Protect your privacy. Use your work address instead of your home address on your luggage tag.

Share the load. If you're traveling with someone, put a few of each other's clothes in both suitcases in case one gets lost.

Double-check travel sizes You can carry on all your toiletries as long as each bottle is 3 oz. or smaller and all items fit into a 1-quart resealable plastic bag.

Wear socks Flip flops may seem like the right choice for an island escape, but they leave your feet exposed to the bare floor when passing through security. Comfy, easy-to-remove shoes with socks are your best bet.

Pack snacks Nuts, granola bars and healthy nibbles are allowed through security and help avoid overpriced fast food and nonveg airline offerings.

Stay informed For up-to-the minute security information, log on to


Sure, ab exercises are great and your belly can always use an extra crunch or two, but traveling takes its toll on multiple body zones, especially your feet, neck and torso. Here are a few exercises you can do anywhere (even sitting at the gate in the airport!) to help keep them limbered up and tension free.


Toe curls Sit with legs forward, heels resting on the floor. Flex toes, then curl tightly and hold 5 seconds. Release; repeat 5 to 10 times.

Ankle circles Sit with legs forward, heels 12 inches off floor. Point toes, flex and rotate feet clockwise 5 times, then counterclockwise 5 times. Repeat 3 times.


Head tilts Let arms hang loosely at sides. Tilt head to one side until you feel a stretch in opposite side of neck. Hold 10 seconds, then tilt neck to other side. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Shoulder stretches Extend right arm across body so it crosses left shoulder. Crook left arm under right arm next to elbow, and pull to feel stretch in shoulder blades and upper back. Hold 10 seconds, then repeat with left arm.


Low-back stretch Sit with legs slightly apart. Place head between knees, wrap arms around legs and gently hug calves. Hold 10 to 20 seconds. Rest 5 seconds, then repeat.


Chest stretch Stand or sit up straight. Reach arms behind your back. Clasp hands together, and push arms down and back. Hold 10 to 20 seconds. Rest 5 seconds, then repeat.

By Linda Melone