BRIAN PARR’S HEALTH AND FITNESS: Your vacation fitness test
Vacations are a great chance to get away, relax and recuperate. They also present opportunities to be active through hiking, cycling and many other pursuits.
But even sightseeing and visiting theme parks can require far more activity than many people are accustomed to. In fact, many vacation activities are a good test of your fitness. Unfortunately, many people find out the hard way – sore feet and achy legs, for example – that they weren’t prepared for this level of activity. The good news is that regular exercise can prepare you for your next vacation so you can focus on having fun, not your tired body.
There is good reason to choose an active vacation. Spending time outdoors can reduce stress and walking on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean seems like fun, not exercise. The end result is that being active on your vacation adds to the restorative effect of taking time away from your usual routine. In one study, people who had a physically active vacation reported that they felt mentally and physically fitter, felt more balanced and relaxed, could concentrate better during work, were in a better mood and felt more recuperated than those who took it easy.
Even if you don’t choose a vacation to participate in a specific exercise, you will likely spend time being active. Most vacation destinations are selected in part because there are interesting sights to see or are easy to get around without a car. This means you will be on your feet a lot more than usual.
Think about a family trip to Disney World. It is not uncommon for people to be on their feet for 12 hours and walk 10 to 15 miles in a single day. Most people don’t do that much walking in a typical week. This can lead to blisters, muscle soreness, and fatigue, limiting what you can do and, at the very least, making your time less enjoyable.
Because regular exercise promotes endurance and strength, being fit can make it easier to get through long days on vacation. If you spend much of your time sitting at work and home, visiting a museum or standing in long lines at a theme park can be daunting. But if you spend more of your day up and moving, you will have an easier time in these situations.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next active vacation. You should limit your sitting and spend more time standing and moving around at work and at home. This will help you get ready for long days on your feet. Dedicating 30 minutes each day to being active will build endurance, and you can get bigger benefits from doing more. If your vacation will include vigorous exercise, building strength through resistance training and flexibility through stretching or yoga can help you avoid injury.
Your goal should be enjoy your vacation and the extra activity it will likely include. In addition to the numerous other health benefits, improving your fitness through regular physical activity will help you appreciate your vacation time more with less stress, meaning you can return home relaxed and ready to take on your usual routine.
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist; his research focuses on physical activity in weight management and the impact of the environment on activity and diet.