B Active on Vacation

Image Credit: toneitup.com

Image Credit: toneitup.com

It is Spring Break time of year and for some that means vacation! Vacation can be a time to break out of day to day routines or even, dare I say, not have any routine at all.  This change can be rejuvenating and essential to our mental and physical health. There is research to support the fact that, “People who take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life, and more motivation to achieve their goals.” 1

In fact, one researcher has argued that the positive benefits of taking a vacation are so significant that families should be provided financial assistance if they lack sufficient resources to do so on their own.2  (Side note: that researcher is from the UK).

Vacation often involves “splurging” (or is that just me?) which can also be important in moderation. Some research models suggest we only have a fixed amount of self-control, so giving ourselves those occasional indulgences is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the long term.3

So, there are many important reasons to take that vacation. On the flip side, it is the unfortunate fact that, while we might take a mental or physical vacation, our bodies never go on vacation. Our bodies work 24/7 and in fact, due to some of our indulgences, vacation might actually be a time when our bodies have to work overtime. I am sure we have all experienced that “vacation hangover”.

Also frustrating is how quickly it feels like all that hard work in the gym disappears after one or two (if we are lucky) weeks of vacation.  Research does show that three weeks off of training can result in significant loss of muscle mass and strength. So good news – don’t worry about those one-week vacations. However, you will recover your pre-vacation muscle strength more quickly if you engage in some training while away. Cardiovascular endurance decreases more rapidly than muscle strength and effects can be seen as quickly as one week off of training. Although, again, it really takes three to four weeks off to see dramatic decreases in cardio fitness levels.

Before you get too discouraged, your pre-vacation fitness level also impacts the loss of muscle strength and cardio fitness after a break from training. The more fit you are going into vacation, the more quickly you will regain any losses after just a week or two break. 4,5

Clearly, incorporating an exercise plan into your vacation, particularly for an extended vacation, will help you maintain the benefits of all your hard work in the gym.  

I asked our own fitness expert, Susan Brown, to provide some guidance on exercising during travel. Here is her amazing overview.

Whether you are on the road for business trips or taking a well-deserved vacation for pleasure, there are plenty of ways to stick to your nutrition and fitness goals while on the road.

1.     CHECK THE HOTEL WEBSITE: Scope out the hotel equipment and make a plan in advance. Tell someone you are traveling with your fitness plans to hold you accountable and encourage him/her to join you. It’s important to set a realistic goal before you go to set yourself up for success.

2.     WHAT TO DO IN HOTEL GYMS: Every time I hit a hotel gym – I see a similar scene. Women on the elliptical and men doing bicep curls. On vacation, people tend to resort to what is comfortable but not always the most effective. If you’re not sure what to do, challenge yourself to venture into the weights area and follow this pattern: 1 – 2 – 15 – 2. One piece of equipment, 2 exercises, 15 reps, 2 times through.  For example, grab a moderate set of dumb bells and perform 15 alternating lunges, then 15 shoulder presses and repeat. Then grab a stability ball and alternate two times between an elbow plank on the ball and 15 hamstring curls with your feet on the stability ball. Grab a bench for 15 dips then 15 step ups and repeat. Hop on the rowing machine for 1 minute or treadmill for some short sprints then back to the weights again. Have some fun experimenting and you’ll get a lot more out of your workout!

3.     ASK THE CONCIERGE: Several major hotel chains have brand-wide fitness initiatives. Fairmont hotels provides guests with loaner workout clothes and shoes so they don't have to pack their own; Omni hotels offer complimentary "Get Fit Kits" with kettle bells, contour weights and foam rollers; while Kimpton hotels supply every guest room with a yoga mat.

4.     WHEN THERE IS NO GYM, PACK UP YOUR HOME GYM: I always travel with 4 things: a jump rope, a resistance band loop, a resistance band with handles and 2 slider discs (felt squares or hotel wash cloths do the trick).

5.     DOWNLOAD an APP for your phone: When I have to work out in a hotel room which feels much less inspiring than being at Balance, having a good playlist and an app to tell me how long to work helps to motivate me. I like Secondspro interval timer which comes with a few sample interval workouts. You could also simply set the timer on your phone and use that as your cue. When deciding what movements to do, I keep everything basic like 45 seconds of legs, arms, cardio, and core. Here’s how that might look using the equipment I packed: Round 1: Squats with the band above my knees, bicep curls with the band with handles, burpees, plank jacks. Rest and repeat again. Round 2: Reverse slider lunges, tricep extensions with the band, jump rope and spiderman plank with the felt sliders under my toes. Rest and repeat again.

6.     FOLLOW THE 5 MINUTE RULE: When I would much rather relax than exercise on vacation, I follow the 5 minute rule. This is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique for procrastination in which you set a goal of doing whatever it is you would otherwise avoid, but only do it for five minutes. If after five minutes it’s so horrible that you have to stop, you are free to do so. However, what most people find is that after five minutes of doing something, it’s easy to continue until the task is done. Setting the intention and starting is usually the hardest part. By thinking about the workout as something that may take only 5 minutes, it feels much less overwhelming and a lot more doable.

7.     DON'T FREAK OUT: Your workouts won't be the same as those at home; they will likely be shorter, less intense and on different equipment. That is ok. The key is that you keep moving and try to be active every day. Your body will welcome the change up.

8.     WORKOUT in the AM: Whether you have business meetings all day or margarita on the beach calling your name, either way the chances of you hitting the gym at 5:00 pm on vacation are slim. You will make better choices throughout the day if you start the day with a workout.

9.     WALK, WALK, WALK: I wear my fit bit on vacation as one way to keep me moving more especially when on a more sedentary beach vacation. Incorporate as much walking into your trip as possible, even if that is walking to your meetings or to dinner out instead of taking a taxi, or even just between terminals in the airport instead of taking a shuttle. The extra steps will help to offset the extra calories that inevitably come along with eating out more.

Now that you know the importance of vacation for your mental health and how to maintain your level of fitness while you travel, there is only one thing left to do – start planning!   Safe Travels and Bon Voyage. Send us a postcard (so old school, I know).

Credit to Alyson Mandel


1.   https://www.allinahealth.org/HealthySetGo/SingleArticle.aspx?id=36507232167).

2.    McCabe, S. (2009). Who needs a holiday? Evaluating social tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 36, 667-688.

3.   https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/01/self-control

4.   https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-lose-muscle-mass?utm_medium=email&utm_source=email-share&utm_campaign=social-sharebar-referred-desktop

5.   Sports Med. 2013 May;43(5):367-84. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0031-3. The development, retention and decay rates of strength and power in elite rugby union, rugby league and American football: a systematic review. McMaster DT1, Gill N, Cronin J, McGuigan M.

6.   https://www.runloop.com/seconds-pro  (info about the secondspro app)

Kaitlyn Renzi