As a professor, travel is a regular part of my work routine whether for conferences or smaller meetings. Despite these meetings discussing the latest research or ways for people to be healthy and prevent heart disease, it’s ironic that we spend most of the time sitting down.
The combination of all that sitting, plus being in a different location (and even time zone), makes it challenging to maintain my activity levels, but it can be equally important, if not more so, to be active while away. Firstly, with all that sitting (which is not good for us), getting on your feet and moving around is a must. It will help keep you loose and refreshed. Second, exercise can help you adapt to a new time zone much faster by adjusting your circadian rhythm and delaying melatonin release. To keep up with your activity, or even doing a modest amount isn’t hard with some planning and here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.
- Booking the Hotel:
If I can, I rarely stay in the conference hotel, but instead stay at one within walking distance. This allows me to get in a walk before any meetings start and also be outside to see the surroundings. I’ve been to many meetings where some of my colleagues haven’t even been outside for the whole three days. Plus, getting outside early in the morning to expose yourself to the natural light will help refresh you for the day. I also look for a hotel that has a gym and/or swimming pool. Nowadays most hotels have some sort of fitness area.
- In the Airport:
Airports are usually huge buildings with long halls; plenty of room to do some walking. Whether before your flight or during a lay-over, try to avoid the siren call of the lounge and take advantage of the airport to get in some extra steps. Remember, you’ll be sitting for long enough on the plane. If you have carry-on luggage and don’t want to lug it around, many airports have small trolleys to use or you may be able to leave it in a lounge while you’re walking. I always avoid using escalators and movators. These usually aren’t any faster than taking the stairs or walking as many people just stand still blocking others from passing.
- On the Plane:
Keeping your muscles moving on a plane is important on long flights to prevent you from stiffening up and keep your blood moving (this help prevents blood clots which are a minor risk of being seated too long). Unless I ‘m planning to sleep for most of the flight, I choose an aisle seat on the plane. This makes it easier to get up and walk down the aisle, go to the washroom or get something from the overhead bin. Every movement helps, I’ve even done some stretching and walking in place in the washroom (maybe that’s obsessive of me).
While sitting on the plane you can do simple things like heel raises, shoulder rolls and neck rotations. These will help you keep loose and also limber you up for any luggage lifting you may need to do; a body that hasn’t moved for a few hours is in no shape to be lifting heavy luggage.
- During the Meeting:
It can be really challenging getting activity throughout the day while the meeting is on. However, you can usually get in a short walk outside or in the hotel during the breaks and lunch. This will get you moving and also helps me stay away from the snack table during the coffee breaks. Try spending some time standing during the meeting as well, along with doing some of those seated exercises you did on the plane.
- At Home:
Like many travelers have a vanity bag ready with their travel toiletries already packed, I have a fitness bag. In it I carry a lock to use on lockers for using in community centres and pools. Many places have coin-operated locks but I find it easier to bring a lock with me rather than fiddle with loose change, especially if I’m in a foreign country. I also carry a swim cap, as many pools in Europe and Asia require one. You can also include your fitness gear, shampoo, etc. so that it’s all ready to grab when you leave.
- Get out and See the City:
Years ago I gave up running due to being injured too many times, so now my main exercises are swimming and cycling. Of course it would be much easier if all I had to do was walk out the hotel and go for a run. Like walking, this is a fantastic way to explore where you are. The hotel Concierge can usually point you in the direction of some good running routes.
Since I don’t run, and if there is not pool in my hotel, I’ll find where the closest community centre pool is for some swimming (usually before I leave home). I’ve gone swimming in community pools throughout England, in Stockholm, Lyon, Paris, New York, San Diego and Sydney to name a few. This has given me the opportunity to also see the city and interact with the locals.
If you want to be more adventurous while being a tourist, you can rent a bike or go on a biking or walking tour. A lot of times I’m unable to get fly home right after the meeting and end up having a free spare day or half-day. Instead of staying in the hotel I take the opportunity to do something different or unique to the area like exploring hiking trails, doing some horseback riding or even surfing (location dependent of course).
- Making your Own Traveling Gym:
If all else fails, you can always bring your own gym with you. I often bring a skipping rope for cardio and a resistance band for strengthening when there’s no gym in the hotel or nearby. There’s usually someplace outside the hotel that you can do some skipping like a courtyard or even the parking lot. There are also plenty of exercise videos you can load onto your computer or tablet and follow along to in your hotel room. When I was in Hanoi, the hotel fitness equipment was out of order for the whole time so I did a variety of calisthenic exercises in my room.
Whether you able to keep up with the same amount of activity while away that you usually do at home, or even get in a smaller, modest amount, it is still much better than going on an exercise holiday. You’ll not only feel more refreshed while away but it will be easier to get back into your routine when you get home.
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