Fit Vacation: How to Add Healthy Activities to Your Family Vacation

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Dr. Kymm Ballard – The sun is out, the kids are home, and the summer breeze is dancing through your open window. What better time of year to take advantage of the warm weather and bond as a family? Summer is an optimal time to plan a vacation — with the children out of school, and the temperatures rising, parents crave a getaway just as much as their kids.

For many parents, vacations provide a way to reconnect as a family, away from the gadgets and devices that can engulf our daily lives. And while it feels great to relax, free from your normal schedules and workloads, don’t give up on your usual fitness values just because you’re not at home. You may not have access to your home treadmill, and your kids are lacking their weekly PE classes, but it doesn’t take much to find little ways to stay active during your family trip.

Whether you’re seeking a vacation to relax, indulge, or both – there are plenty of ways to break the sedentary cycle, by incorporating a few easy activities into your travel plans.

Take the Stairs

As a general fitness boost, health experts suggest opting for the stairs, over elevators and escalators. If you’re checking into a hotel and need to drop off your luggage, ditch the bellhop and cart, in favor of a few trips up the stairs. It may take a little bit longer, but unless you’re staying on the very top floor, taking the stairs is a relatively mindless and heart-healthy method to get your blood flowing.

Find the Gym

If you’re planning to stay at a hotel, find one with a fitness center. Exercising outside of the home is a great way to clear the mind, and take some much needed “me time.” Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, many hotels keep their fitness centers open 24 hours a day for busy parents on the go. If you can’t complete your normal workout routine, try to fit in at least half of your usual workout — something is always better than nothing.

Plan for Physical Activity

It can be easy to get caught up in relaxation mode, and forget to get up and keep moving. It’s important to incorporate daily activity into your vacation plans for you and your family. Children, in particular, benefit from increased levels of Vitamin D through sun exposure (don’t forget the sunscreen!) — plus, spending time outdoors has been shown to increase attention spans, and promote better socialization.

If you’re vacationing at the beach, incorporate peaceful morning walks in the sand, or evening strolls at sunset, as a way to enjoy nature’s beauty — while burning calories, and spending time with the kids. For true beach bums, picking up beach volleyball, bocce ball, and even building sandcastles are fun ways to stay active and bond as a family. If your clan loves the water, consider paddle boarding, surfing, kayaking, and other water-based sports.

If you’re going on a mountain getaway, take family hikes planned with games and activities for along the way. Pack notebooks and take breaks to record sights, sounds, and smells. By engaging the senses, you are not only appreciating the great outdoors for yourself; you are setting a healthy example for your kids. One great way to reduce stress — yours and theirs — is by taking in the lush greenery of the surrounding landscapes.

Opt for Walking

An easy way to incorporate physical activity into your day is by simply walking — as much as you can. Instead of taking a taxi to dinner, plan a bit of extra travel time; it helps if you strategically seek out accommodations a short distance from local restaurants. Walking to dinner is a great way to build up an appetite, and walking after meals can aid digestion and help keep blood sugar levels down. What’s not to love about saving money and cutting calories at the same time?

Rent a Bike

If you’re looking to familiarize yourself with your local surroundings, sign your family up for a guided bike tour. Or, hit the pedals without a guide to explore town on your own. Depending on the region you’re in, some areas have scenic bike trails dotted with dazzling views. Many popular vacation destinations offer bike rentals for the whole family, so indulge your inner child and go along for the ride.

Go for a Swim

It’s hard to find a travel destination that doesn’t offer at least some sort of aquatic activity. Give the lazy river a rest, and opt for the swimming pool instead, to get your muscles moving. Sure, it may be a bit louder, but it also offers more opportunity to be active. Play Marco Polo with the kids, or search for diving sticks at the bottom of the pool. Swimming is an ideal way to strength-train and increase lung capacity, while keeping cool — it’s a win-win for the whole family!

Pack for Comfort

You’ll be less likely to engage in physical activity if you’re not prepared for it. When packing the suitcases, make sure you and your kids pack comfortable clothing that’s amenable to being active — particularly outdoors. Tennis shoes, swimwear, and stretchy workout clothes are basic essentials for a fitness-filled trip. Whether you’re camping in the woods or staying at a swanky resort, it’s important to plan for a full vacation’s worth of activities.

Stay Hydrated and Healthy

When packing the suitcases, it’s also wise to think ahead in terms of nutritious snacks and staying hydrated. It’s common for many of us to “cheat” on our normal diets, by overindulging during vacation mealtime — but remember that even if you want to enjoy one or two special dinners, you don’t have to ditch nutrition altogether. You can stick to your goals and satiate hunger pangs, by packing small and healthy snacks — like nuts and dried fruit. Plus, you’ll be fostering good nutrition habits in your kids.

Pack water bottles for the whole family, and bring them with you on your fun activities, especially when you’ll be outdoors for a while. Keep thirst at bay by increasing your water intake throughout the day. It’s recommended that adult males drink 13 cups, and adult females drink 9 cups of water a day. Depending on age, children should be drinking between 4-11 cups each day. Combat the sweltering heat, and keep your loved ones cool and refreshed, with plenty of water on hand.

Don’t Take a Break from Fitness

As we continue uncovering the risks of sedentary lifestyles, it’s more important than ever to encourage children be active — even during a relaxing vacation, or a laid back summer break. You can set a positive example for your kids, by incorporating health and fitness not only into your regular routine, but your vacation plans as well. Whether crossing state lines or traveling abroad, opportunities to keep active can be found all around if you take the time to look for them. Show your kids that fitness isn’t something to take a vacation from.

What do you like to do to stay active when you’re on a trip? Do you find it difficult, or easy, to keep up with your healthy habits during vacation?

Dr. Kymm Ballard is the Executive Director for SPARK, a division of School Specialty, Inc. Kymm is the former Physical Education, Athletics and Sports Medicine Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She wrote, advocated for and promoted the Healthy Active Children Policy of the NC State Board of Education and the state’s Standards for Physical Education.

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