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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Focus on Fitness Focus on Fitness

Don't Make Your Vacation A Holiday From Exercise

July 09, 2013

By Paulette Chandler M.D.

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Winter vacation season is here. Pack your bags. Get your ticket. Don’t forget your passport. Wait a minute! Did you grab your exercise gear?

Just because you’re going on vacation doesn’t mean you should limit your exercise routine to lying on a towel at the beach with an occasional dip in the water. Keep your fitness program on track during vacation with careful planning.

Remember, each day of exercise improves your health.

Packing List

  • Comfortable walking shoes and swimwear. Even if you will not be near a pool or beach, you may have access to a hot tub or sauna.
  • Jump rope for cardiac conditioning you can do almost anywhere
  • Exercise routine music and a personal music player
  • Lightweight rubber tubing for upper and lower body-strength training
  • Hat and sunscreen for outdoor activities
  • Water bottle for drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Healthy snacks for calorie control

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Exercises During the Journey

Walk every one to two hours in order to keep your blood circulating and to maintain a happy back and supple muscles. Bathroom breaks are a chance to stretch your legs and move them too! Jog in place. Then do a few squats or lunges. Road stops offer a chance to do one of your favorite stretches, or to jump rope for several minutes.

Sitting down is no excuse not to exercise. Work your arms. You can do biceps curls almost anywhere. Or, take a knitting project with you for long rides. Sneak in some exercise every chance you get. Before your flight takes off, go for a quick 10 to 15 minute walk around the airport without making a pit stop at the munchie stand. When possible, choose stairs instead of escalators or elevators.

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On-Site Fitness

Sure, your regular workout schedule might be thrown off when you go on vacation, but think of it as a chance to cross train your body. A change of routine adds variety to your fitness program and can enhance weight loss and pleasure from exercise. Think of exercise as a menu rather than a diet. Try location-specific activities such as skiing, rock climbing or kayaking. Walk as many places as you can, since walking is a wonderful way to learn a new city or area in an intimate way. Keep a map in your pocket in case you get lost. Be sure to check with the locals about the best and safest places for walking.

If you will be staying in a hotel, try to select a hotel with an exercise room. Some places may offer free or discounted use of area health clubs. Or you can work out in your hotel room. Just push back the beds and find an aerobics class on the local TV, or bring your favorite exercise video. For strength training in the room, try exercises that use your own body weight: dips, push-ups, squats, lunges, calf raises, abdominal crunches and leg raises.

Of course, continue to eat a healthy diet high in veggies, fresh fruit and whole grains, and watch out for fatty foods. Don’t go wild in the restaurants. Ask for the sauces on the side. Sauces made from cream can add several hundred calories to a dish, and you may only need a small amount of the sauce to enjoy the dish. Try low-calorie desserts.


Remember, being healthy is a year-round game, so don’t drop the ball when vacation time rolls around. If you aren’t currently exercising, use vacation as a time to build an exercise routine or try new activities. Whatever your vacation plans — taking a trip with your family, hanging at home or visiting friends — don’t take a vacation from exercise.

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Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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