Stay toned on travel: Tips for balancing physical activity and summer fun

WASHINGTON — Everything you need for vacation is packed — the sunscreen, your bathing suit and a stack of magazines are all crammed into your suitcase. Too bad there isn’t any room left for your personal trainer.

Vacations are meant to be fun, relaxing and a break from the daily grind, but if you’re not careful, they can do some major damage to your health.

Don’t let one week in paradise ruin all of the hard work you’ve put in since the New Year. Here are some tips to ensure you stay happy and healthy on your summer travels.

Rise and shine and get it done

Personal trainer Josef Brandenburg says an important thing to keep in mind is that vacation is all about resting, recharging and spending quality time with your friends and family. Your fitness routine should not be the top priority.

At the same time, not doing any physical activity for a week or two can cause your progress to backslide. In just two weeks, Brandenburg says you can lose 20 to 25 percent of your cardiovascular fitness and 5 to 10 percent of your strength.

Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance between squeezing in some physical activity and filling your schedule with more pleasurable activities.

One of Brandenburg’s best tips is to get up and immediately get a workout out of the way. Vacation plans can be spontaneous, and let’s face it: you’re not going to turn down an afternoon snorkeling trip or a leisurely lunch in a vineyard because you have to exercise.

“Getting [your workout] out of the way first thing in the morning just helps. Whatever comes up for the rest of the day — it doesn’t matter, because you already got it done,” Brandenburg says.

Twenty to 30 minutes is all you need. It’s practically the same amount of time you’ll spend Instagramming your vacation photos.

Set realistic goals

The week of vacation probably isn’t the best time to try to lose five pounds.

“You just want to come back and hopefully be the same as when you left or not have slid back too much,” Brandenburg says.

And there are plenty of ways you can prevent a lapse — of course what you can do depends on where you are and what you have access to.

Most American-style hotels and resorts have gyms stocked with cardiovascular machines and strength-training equipment, which makes it easy to fit in a workout session that might be similar to your routine at home.

Beach houses, bed-and-breakfasts and Airbnbs, however, don’t usually come with a room dedicated to keeping your beach body in shape.

Don’t sweat it: There are a few things you can throw into your travel bag to help you with your workouts that don’t take up space and won’t tip the scales to the $50 luggage fee at the airport.

  • A lacrosse ball: Have a bad back, tight shoulders or a troubled IT band? Brandenburg says pack a lacrosse ball.   “A long drive or a long flight is going to make your hips, your shoulders and maybe even your feet, really tight,” he says. But a lacrosse ball works like a thumb or an elbow, helping to work out whatever sort of knots and tightness you have in your hip. Getting a five-minute massage with the ball can help make your vacation a lot more pleasant and also ensure that your workout is pain-free, Brandenburg says.
  • Valslide: Named after celebrity trainer Valerie Waters, the Valslide is a hand-sized rubber mat that essentially replaces a slide board. “It’s kind of like two furniture movers … and it allows you to do really challenging exercises for your upper body, your lower body and your core,” says Brandenburg, who adds that the equipment is great for doing a variety of plank variations.
  • Resistance band: Keep toned while you travel with a resistance band or two. The elastic bands fit easily in any travel bag and work everything from your lower body, to your back, chest and arms.
  • Running shoes: Don’t forget to pack shoes that are easy to walk or run in.

Mix fun and fitness

Of course, you don’t always have to feel like you’re working out to get in a good workout. Depending on where you’re going, you can merge physical activity and fun.

Headed to Europe? Don’t bother with the confusing subway diagrams. Pick up a map and walk your way through the city. You’ll see more sites, soak up more culture and feel less guilty when you stop for an afternoon gelato.

If Napa is your destination, rent a bike and pedal your way through wine country. There are plenty of companies that organize bike tours and stop at several vineyards along the way.

Need to cool off at the beach? Jump into the pool or ocean and swim for a bit. You can also rent a stand-up paddle board and give your core a workout, or shred some waves — and some calories — on a surf board.

Don’t forget to pack your discipline

While it’s important to relax and break away from a regimented routine, you can’t throw all discipline out the window. Brandenburg says it’s important to set some rules for yourself before you hop on a plane.

For starters, don’t overindulge: This goes for both food and drink. It’s perfectly OK to kick back with a margarita or to dine with wine, but don’t go overboard. Brandenburg says it’s best to keep alcohol to a “one and done” rule.

“Not only do the drinks pack in a lot of calories, the alcohol wreaks havoc on your metabolism. Also, you just tend to make really poor choices. Plus, the next day you have no energy so you’re much less likely to exercise the next morning,” he says.

Treat yourself, but try to keep your restrictions and rules similar those you have at home. Enjoy a dessert every other day instead of multiple times a day. Or plan to keep breakfast and lunch lighter if you know you’re going out to a multicourse dinner.

If you’re renting a house, you have complete control of your food options. Stock the fridge with healthy foods and go out to get the occasional treat. It’s better if temptation isn’t greeting you every time you turn the corner.

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