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Top 10 ways to stay fit and healthy while traveling

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD
If Friday’s post was not enough of a testament of my dedication to this blog, then today’s post should convince most of our readers just how dedicated and utterly obsessed we are. At the moment, I am on board a U.S. Airways flight from Vegas to Toronto – the turbulence just after liftoff was a bit frightening – some people were screaming – apparently regular occurrence flying out of Vegas.

While my last post on staying active while traveling was mostly tongue-in-cheek, I thought it would be helpful for our readers to develop a top ten list for staying fit and healthy during your travels (in no particular order).

1. Do your best to maintain a proper diet – particularly during flight days when you could be on the go for over 12 hours and no regular meals. Preparation is key. Getting healthy food options on most flights and at airports is near impossible. Thus, bringing along some trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars and other healthy snacks will help with the hunger – not to mention prevent the inevitable GI distress you will likely experience by eating in-flight or airport meals. aSlo, once you arive at your destination take the time to scope out healthy eating options before opting for the hotel buffet.

2. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation can easily become a problem when traveling across time zones or during red-eye flights. While feeling tired can be a miserable way to start your trip, sleep deprivation can also result in you craving high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods – not the best situation when already faced with limited healthy eating options. These cravings result largely from a change in your body’s hormonal milieu: levels of appetite suppressant, leptin decrease while levels of appetite stimulator, ghrelin increase in response to lack of sleep. I always travel with a set of good quality earplugs and something to cover my eyes – this way no matter my new sleeping quarters, I can more or less guarantee silence and darkness.

3. Walk as much as possible. Walking is one of the best exercises out there which requires nothing else beyond comfortable footwear (relative concern – I find flip-flops rather comfortable) and a surface on which to walk. As I made pretty clear in my last post on being active in Vegas, certain destinations really make it difficult for you to get much physical activity. I have always found that exploring any travel destination on foot is by far the most enjoyable, because:
A) You can find things off the beaten path (scenic spots for photos at the Grand Canyon which required a few steps also resulted in no other tourists ruining my Kodak moments)
B) You stumble onto people and places you would have otherwise missed (such as the 2 UFC fighters I spotted while in Vegas – Dan Henderson and hall-of-famer, Royce Gracie)
C) You save money on gas, parking, buses, trains, etc.
D) And let’s not forget the myriad health benefits associated with accumulating the recommended 10 000 steps per day.

4. Did I mention walking? Almost all airports I have ever been at are loaded with escalators, moving sidewalks, terminal shuttles or trains, automatic doors, etc. Whenever possible, avoid these calorie-sparing traps, and take the stairs or walk beside the moving walkway (see if you can beat those folks using the automatic methods of transport – my favourite activity). If you are in a real hurry (been here many times while trying to catch a transfer flight) at least do yourself the service of walking up or down the escalators or moving sidewalks – they are meant to speed up transit after all. I find it utterly infuriating when people just stand on these devices blocking both sides (remember, the right side of an escalator or moving sidewalk is for standing [if you must], while the left side is for walking – or sprinting, depending how close your departure time is).

5. Work-out regularly during your travels. Here you have options depending on your budget.
A) If you can afford it, by far the easiest option is to use the gym located at your hotel.
B)On the other hand, if you are on the verge of being broke just by taking a holiday, it may not be feasible to spend the $20 plus per day to use the exercise facility at your hotel. In this case you have a few options:
a) Throw together a resistance/cardio routine yourself in the hotel room using your luggage (it has handles so can work like a dumbbell) or any hotel furniture, incorporating as many body weight exercise as possible (i.e. pushups, lunges, crunches, etc.). I have found bringing along a set of elastic resistance bands which you can purchase at any sporting store to be quite helpful in making the in-room workout a bit more interesting.
b) Bring along a copy of your favourite exercise DVD. The benefit here is that you will no longer have to get very creative with furniture – less thinking for you.
c) You can check the hotel’s yellow pages for local fitness centres and contact them to find out about their daily or weekly rates – these are often much more reasonable than those at your hotel.

6. While on a plane – do the mini-exercise as described in most in-flight magazines. These exercises include heel lifts, neck rotations, trunk rotation in your seat, etc. Also go to the washroom often – just keeping your balance while walking to the facility while the plane is in motion is quite the balance exercise! This frequent walking will also help eliminate the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis on long-haul flights - a particular risk for those who are over 45 years of age and are overweight or obese, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. In this study, Schwartz and colleagues examined the prevalence of deep vein thrombosis in a group of 964 adults taking flights of 8 hours or more.  They report that 2.8% of passengers suffered a deep vein thrombosis during the flight, which could lead to pulmonary embolism or even death (which could obviously put a real cramp in the rest of your vacation!).  When first getting settled in, you can also help people stow their luggage in the overhead compartments – your shoulders will get a nice workout.

7. Unfortunately, some of the items listed in number 6 become a bit tricky if you have a window seat, so it is best to get an aisle seat. For example, it will be rather difficult to go to the washroom frequently, if the two passengers next to you have fallen asleep. Most airlines allow you to change your seat for free when you check-in, so snag an aisle seat to remove a major obstacle to staying active in the air. This was Travis' idea, as I tend to be a sucker for a window seat no matter how many times I have seen the CN tower when landing in Toronto...

8. Drink plenty of water – air tends to be very dry on planes so you tend to dehydrate easily, and that is a horrible way to start your trip. Drinking plenty of water also has some very useful side-bonuses.
a) Bonus 1. It is very easy to misinterpret thirst for hunger, meaning that if you’re dehydrated, you may be more likely to splurge on a bag of chips in the airport. By staying well-hydrated, you are less likely to over-eat, and you’ll feel better because of it.
b) Bonus 2. As noted in our last top 10 list, drinking plenty of water ensures that you will need a bathroom break about once an hour. This is perfect, because it gives you an excuse/urgent need to get out of your seat and stretch your legs – both activities that will help you feel your best when you hit the ground.

9. Pack wisely – always have a pair of sneakers and at least one set of workout clothes – this will eliminate the easy excuse for not being active due to lack of gear. If you have forgotten your work-out gear, you could either find a nearby mall and get some discount workout gear to hold you over, or alternatively exercise in your hotel room in the nude. This latter option is only appropriate when traveling alone or with a VERY understanding travel partner. Also, ensure the privacy tag is hanging on your door to avoid any awkward run-ins with the cleaning staff.

10. Really the most important piece of advice is to prepare everything before you leave. Make sure you look up the healthy food joints in the area, running trails, hotel services, gyms, etc. Planning ahead will ensure that you have done everything possible to obviate any potential obstacles you may encounter to staying fit and healthy.

Happy travels!


Schwarz T, Siegert G, Oettler W, Halbritter K, Beyer J, Frommhold R, Gehrisch S, Lenz F, Kuhlisch E, Schroeder HE, Schellong SM. (2003). Venous thrombosis after long-haul flights. Archives of Internal Medicine

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5 Response to "Top 10 ways to stay fit and healthy while traveling"

  1. Nana Said,

    There are some profit oriented organizations which offer service on vacation rentals. They can be of great help for you to have a great stay.

    Posted on July 16, 2009 at 9:42 AM

  2. jonathan Said,

    Great tips, but he hardest part is about the foods you meed during traveling.

    Posted on July 16, 2009 at 5:28 PM

  3. Speedwell Said,

    I was diagnosed as a diabetic while in Dubai late last year on a business trip. I've stabilized my blood sugar pretty well on a lowish dose of Metformin and a low-carb diet. How do I get the airlines to cooperate with me when I need to eat on a long-haul flight? I don't use Atkins' lousy products, and I can't live on beef jerky... last time I tried to bring sausage home with me from Germany, it was confiscated. Suggestions? :)

    Posted on July 20, 2009 at 2:46 PM

  4. Health care practices Said,

    One who travels regularly, should take good care of health. Frequent jaunts can take its toll on the body. One should consume apples, bananas, apricots, nuts, fruit juices, green tea and most importantly water. Avoid unhealthy fat related foods. Do some exercise early in the morning or can even do power yoga. It would be benefited if the hotel in which you stay, has gym.

    Posted on July 23, 2009 at 1:08 AM

  5. Lindsay Said,

    I travel for work a lot and I always make sure that the first thing I do is to head to a nearby variety store to get cereal, fruit and individual yogurt containers. Sealed yogurt will actually keep unrefrigerated for a few days. I usually end up using one of the "sealed for your protection" water glasses for my cereal bowl. I find that starting the day off right really puts you in the mindframe to reject the easiest (usually crappy) food choices you face on a trip.

    Posted on August 25, 2010 at 10:10 AM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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