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A Traveler's Workout Guide

Bryant Stamford, PhD


Although jaunts out of town can boost business, they can leave your fitness program bankrupt. Travel, it seems, was designed to disrupt your daily routine, sleep pattern, and diet. The result can be stress and fatigue that dampen your desire to exercise. In addition, lack of facilities and nonstop meetings can rob you of opportunities to work out.

Whether you travel often or only occasionally, disruptions in your exercise routine can seriously derail it. And if your exercise routine disappears, your hard-earned fitness and strength gains can leave you within weeks, only to be replaced by some unwanted houseguests: fatigue and flab. But all is not lost on takeoff. A little planning and effort can give you a fitness plan for almost any out-of-town trip.

Lowering Your Expectations

Begin your travel plan by reducing expectations when away from home. Sure, you have been training hard to increase your mileage or tone your muscles, and you are eager to keep momentum going. But is this reasonable when on the road?

If you are well rested and blessed with sufficient facilities and time, go for it. For some travelers, hotel health clubs and free evenings provide ideal opportunities to boost their fitness. If they also strive to eat healthfully by focusing on wise food selections (see "Road Food," below), they can even come back home a bit healthier than when they left.

Most business travelers, though, will be shortchanged somewhere along the line on opportunities to exercise, so it's best to anticipate this by not expecting too much of yourself. Maintaining strength and fitness is much easier than building it. When you are out of town, therefore, concentrate on maintaining your gains through modest training, rather than trying to sustain a gut-busting workout schedule. As few as one or two moderate workouts a week can maintain your fitness level.

In addition to being impractical, training at your usual intensity while on the road may be risky. Unfamiliar or inferior facilities and pushing your body while fatigued can lead to sloppy performance and even injury.

In fact, if you usually work out vigorously, slowing down or switching to an alternative mode of exercise may revitalize your body, giving you more energy for training than you had before leaving. The energy you get from comfortable, moderate exercise may even boost your productivity during your time away.

Road Trip Tips

Here are some other on-the-road exercise tips to keep in mind. Use whatever ideas fit your style and schedule, or think up your own ways to stay active while traveling.

Lay the groundwork. Plan ahead when choosing accommodations. Choose hotels with good fitness facilities. Call before booking to make sure you will have access to what you need. If a gym is not available at the hotel, inquire as to the nearest facilities.

Do something. Commit to doing some form of exercise. When it comes to your health, consistency is the key. Don't give up on exercise just because you can't get out for your 3-mile run. Be flexible, and take a walk instead. As the ubiquitous ad says, "Just do it!"

Hit the ground running. Set the tone for your trip by exercising as soon as you can after arriving at your destination. Working out right away affirms your commitment, helps relieve the stress and fatigue of traveling, aids in adjusting to "jet lag," and eliminates the chance that later events will sidetrack your exercise program for the whole trip.

Pencil in exercise. If you can't get a bout of exercise in immediately, schedule workout time by blocking out an hour in your daily planner.

Find fitness snippets. If you are strapped for time, seek exercise opportunities in bits and pieces. Avoid escalators and climb the stairs. Fast-walk in the hotel hallways. If distance allows, walk to an appointment. When confronted with a layover, stroll the terminal instead of docking your derriere.

Discover fun. Build some fun into your exercise routine. Ask the hotel concierge to help you map out a scenic walking or jogging tour. Walking, or even jogging, through a city can give you an up-close experience that can't be matched on a tour bus. But make sure you know where you are going and avoid areas where being a pedestrian could make you a target.

Protect your joints. Be careful when running. If you must jog on sidewalks, know that cement is hard on hip and leg joints. Reduce your speed and distance.

Gear up. Pack gear that will prepare you for a variety of exercise opportunities. Shoes designed for your specific activity are a must. Take exercise clothes suitable for indoor and outdoor conditions, and pack a swimsuit.

Try suite sweat. Don't underestimate the value of exercising in your room. Old standards like push-ups, lunges, crunches, and jumping jacks require only your energy and a small space. Plan ahead by designing a 15- to 20-minute routine that keeps you moving.

Pack a gym. Bring your own mini-gym. You can get a good workout with portable rubber exercise tubing, hand grips, plastic dumbbells that fill with water, a jump rope, or audiocassettes that guide you in fitness, yoga, or stretching routines. And, if appropriate, don't forget sports equipment like a tennis or racquetball racket, golf clubs, etc.

Tune in. Check the TV for exercise programs. The local channel listings might offer good fitness programs that you can exercise along with.

Round-Trip Fitness

The bottom line is, traveling does not have to blow a big hole in your exercise plan or disrupt your attempts at leading a healthy lifestyle. But to tilt the odds in your favor, plan ahead—and get creative!

Road Food

To round out your healthy business trip, you need to complement your exercise plan with nutritious low-fat meals. Exercise can partially counteract a bad diet, but not entirely. And, unfortunately, eating well on the road can be as challenging as maintaining an exercise program. But with forethought and effort, it can be done.

Restaurants are making it easier to eat well with healthful pastas (without cream sauces), vegetarian dishes, and broiled and grilled entrees of poultry and fish. Ask about low-fat options. You can also request special preparations without butter and oils, and low-fat desserts like sherbet.

On the plane, you can ask in advance for the vegetarian or low-fat meal. Avoid the peanuts—the tiny bag contains a whopping dose of fat.

Carrying some food with you in your briefcase or a small cooler ensures healthful choices and helps you resist skipping meals and later gorging on fatty sweets because you feel like you're starving. Nutritious carry-ons include bagels, carrots, rice cakes, low-fat crackers or cookies, low-fat cheese, bottled water, and raisins or other fruit.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Stamford is director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center and professor of exercise physiology in the School of Education at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He is also an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.




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