How to Make Vacation Healthy

Come home relaxed and refreshed after a more active, yet indulgent trip.

When many of us take a vacation, more than anything, we seek to relax. We spend long, lazy days on a beach chair or in a hammock and socialize the night away with rum drinks, fancy martinis, and indulgent desserts. Too often, we return home heavier and flabbier than we’ve been since, well, our last vacation.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Active vacations are often the most relaxing of all. Wait! It’s all in defining what an active vacation is. We don’t expect you to take up jogging, backpacking, or hang gliding. Rather, we ask the sedentary vacationers among you to spend two to four hours a day doing things. Walking the city streets. Exploring a nature preserve. Going to a zoo. Biking along the ocean. Taking a leisurely rowboat ride.

These kinds of activities aren’t just good for your physical health. They improve your mental health, even your spiritual health. And they make vacations memorable and worthwhile. And after all, isn’t that what you want from your vacation? Here are some fresh ideas to make your vacations as pleasurable as they are active and healthy.

1. Make morning time your activity time. Most likely the weather will be friendlier, your energy level higher, and your agenda emptier than later in the day.

2. Reacquaint yourself with sunrises and sunsets. A walk at dawn or dusk is rejuvenation
defined. Try to make this a daily ritual of life away from home, and you will guarantee yourself both physical and spiritual replenishment.

3. Get into the water as much as you can. Don’t allow yourself to spend all your time sitting in front of the water. Whether it is the ocean, a swimming pool, or a tree-lined lake, make sure you get into the water for swimming or games or even walking. Heck, merely standing in waist-high water is a good workout, thanks to the action of the water. And you’ll feel so much more alive!

4. Get on the water as much as you can. Paddleboats are a blast. Canoeing is a joy. Rowboats are romantic. Powerboats exhilarating. Sailboats serene. Kayaks pure adventure. Inner tubes can erase 50 years from your attitude in a matter of minutes. Even standing at the rail of a steamboat is exciting. Boats make you feel young, and whether you are propelling them or not, they all burn calories and engage your muscles more than being on dry land.

5. Choose a cruise for your trip. It’s amazing how active you can be being stuck on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Most cruise ships offer numerous options for seaworthy exercise. Most ships house pools, golf simulators, rock walls, basketball hoops, fitness centers, jogging and walking areas, and instructor-led fitness classes — and that’s just what’s on board. During your sea and land excursions you can burn calories as you snorkel, swim, hike, scuba dive, and horseback ride.

6. Get out of the car every two hours. Many of us spend a large chunk of our vacations on the road, either getting to and from our destinations, or using the car for sightseeing. But no matter how beautiful the scenery is, great, memorable vacations don’t happen in a car seat. Don’t wait for exhaustion or nature’s call to get you to pull over. Frequently get out and stretch, walk, picnic, shop, visit, and have fun. It’s important for your health and energy, and it makes traveling a lot more active and interesting.

7. Play active games. When most people think of outdoor games, they think of team sports like baseball, football, or volleyball, all of which can be both intimidating and excessively strenuous for grown-ups who stopped playing such things a long time back. So forget about the standard games. All types of fun outdoor games are available today. Start with the old-fashioned ones — badminton, shuffleboard, horseshoes, Wiffle ball, or bocce. Try some new ones too — they make great balls out of Nerf these days, and if you haven’t bought a squirt gun in a while, be prepared for today’s amazing supersoakers. Plus all types of new paddle games are available that are easy and fun. Your goal: Play an outdoor game every day while on vacation.

8. Create a silly tournament. Particularly if there are kids on the vacation, it can be a hoot to create your own mini-Olympics. For example, if you use the swimming pool every day, have a daily competition, such as holding your breath underwater, or swimming between people’s legs, or having a big splash contest. Or maybe a week-long badminton competition. “Silly” is the operative word — don’t make it serious competition, but just a chance to have active fun in which everyone participates.

9. Play miniature golf. You burn more calories sitting than lying, standing than sitting, and walking than standing. Although miniature golf won’t incinerate fat, it will burn more calories than lying in a hammock. Plus, your kids will have a great time. You probably will too.

10. Beware the food obsession. Let’s be honest: For many of us, vacations are about eating splurges. It’s fresh seafood by the ocean, amazing restaurants in great cities, unlimited breakfast buffets at the hotel, that ice cream/candy/cake/jambalaya that you remember as a child and come back for every few years. This is the stuff of great vacations, and don’t deny yourself these pleasures. Our suggestion: Limit yourself to one food splurge a day. If you do more, the uniqueness and specialness of the splurges fade away. And you’ll spend too much time sitting in restaurants — and then sitting some more, recuperating from the overindulgence.

11. Explore on foot. Yes, you can use the concierge, the travel guides, the map, or the bus tours to get acquainted with a new location. But only by getting out and walking can you truly get the feel of a village, city, resort, or wilderness. We recommend that you plan to spend the first several hours at your vacation destination walking the area. If you are in a city, pick a few restaurants to try while you are walking and make your reservations in person. Be sure to locate the parks, museums, and shopping areas.

12. Fly a stunt kite. If there’s a good wind blowing at your destination, purchase a stunt kite and take it to the beach or other large open area. These kites can be easily assembled and then taken apart, making them perfect for traveling. You’ll give your upper body a great workout as you struggle to control the kite. You may also have to run or walk to keep the kite in the air — or chase it down once it plummets to the earth.

13. Schedule an activity-based vacation. Ready to commit to even more action? Wrap your entire vacation around an activity, such as sailing, skiing, hiking, biking, or exploring. No expertise is necessary — just a willingness to take on a new challenge. Travel agents can hook you up with any number of vacation packages targeted from novice to expert, adolescent to senior, single or whole family. If you have children, look for packages that include excavating dinosaur bones and other anthropological expeditions, or that teach them a new sport. A ski vacation with lessons for different ages and ability levels works beautifully.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest