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How to Maintain Some Semblance of a Health Routine on Vacation

by News7

Hydrating almost exclusively on Aperol spritzes. Slothing in bed until noon. Pretending the hotel gym doesn’t exist. We go on vacation to feel relaxed, and relaxing our usual routines is part of the fun.

“What makes travel so exciting is the novelty—experiencing new cultures, seeing new places, and trying new foods,” Anthea Levi, RD, a registered dietitian based in Brooklyn, tells SELF. There’s zero reason to feel guilty if your best vacation life looks very different from the schedule you tend to follow at home, Levi says (after all, that’s kind of the whole point, right?). And to be totally clear, you shouldn’t feel pressure to “stick” to certain health habits while traveling—or anytime, for that matter.

Still, many of us do feel our best, physically and emotionally, with a little consistency, whether that means regular and filling meals for energy, getting a sweet endorphin boost from working out, or clocking enough sleep. So as much as you might be looking forward to “getting away from it all,” it’s also understandable if you’re worried that shaking up your routine might make it harder to feel as good as you do at home.

But we’re here to ease your mind with a friendly reminder: This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. Here’s some expert advice on how to commit to a few healthy-enough habits that are easy to maintain on a trip—while still enjoying yourself, Aperol spritzes (or mocktails) and all.

1. Before you go away, reject the “be good” mindset.If you’re concerned an upcoming vacation is going to throw off your typical food routine, it’s not uncommon to start thinking about needing to be “good” to somehow “earn” your trip, Alissa Rumsey, RD, author of Unapologetic Eating and founder of Rumsey Nutrition Consulting, tells SELF. People who have this mindset are “almost precompensating for what they think is going to happen on vacation,” Rumsey says.

This approach is entirely unhelpful for a few reasons. A big one: It assigns moral value to certain foods, a core tenant of diet culture. (PSA: No foods are “good” or “bad,” and you’re allowed to eat what you want without “saving up” for it first!) Plus, when you deprive yourself of things you really love, you’re less likely to be able to eat mindfully and pay attention to your body’s hunger cues, Rumsey explains, because restriction can make you feel out of control. So if you’ve been trying to be “good” for weeks, when you finally go away, “you can have an ‘F it’ mentality,” she says—and end up feeling unwell as a result.

To shift your mindset, Rumsey suggests focusing on eating enough, eating consistently, and eating foods you actually like in the lead-up to a trip (and all the time!). Just remember that there may (will) still be times when you choose foods that don’t make you feel great, for example, or eat past the point of fullness. “Every eating experience is different,” Rumsey says, adding that some meals might not be the most intuitive or in sync with your body’s hunger cues, and that’s okay. “But continue practicing coming back to yourself and your body and just staying connected as much as you can,” she adds.

2. Ask yourself if you have any nonnegotiables.Everyone has different health priorities—you might feel really anxious and overwhelmed without your twice-weekly yoga class, for example. Or maybe you struggle with gas and bloating and are nervous that new foods and routines will cause your digestive system to go totally haywire.

That’s why Levi counsels clients to think about two or three health “must-dos” before a trip: If booze makes you sleep terribly, you may tell yourself you’d like to have no more than two alcoholic drinks a day. Or, if you’re always forgetting to sip water at home, you might decide to pack a reusable bottle so you don’t get dehydrated in the gorgeous Italian sun. (Setting hydration reminders on your phone can help with that too.) You could also bring snacks that you know won’t mess with your gut, or plan to stream a couple of short, no-equipment workouts in your hotel room.

“The idea is to figure out a few simple goals you know you can commit to, no matter where you are in the world,” Levi says. Just remember that it’s also not a big deal if you don’t end up doing any of these things—you’re on vacation, baby!—so give yourself permission to be flexible. (But, like, definitely drink some water.)

3. Keep a little consistency.Routine helps maintain a steady circadian rhythm—the so-called internal “clock” that supports sleep, metabolism, and even immune system function—so things can get seriously thrown off when you travel, particularly if you’re crossing multiple time zones.

Obviously, sticking to the exact same schedule you follow at home isn’t practical or fun—it’s not really a vacation if you can’t do what you want, when you want—but preserving some consistency can help that clock stay on track, W. Christopher Winter, MD, neurologist and author of The Rested Child and The Sleep Solution, tells SELF.

To support your internal rhythm (and hopefully, bank some restorative vacay sleep as a result), Dr. Winter suggests doing a few small things to give your days some regularity, even if you can’t do them perfectly (you’re on vacation, so you probably can’t!). For example, he recommends trying to keep the timing of your meals somewhat consistent (research shows this may help regulate the circadian rhythm). And the same with your sleep: You may not go to bed at 10 p.m. on the dot every night, but even turning in within the same two-hour window each day can help keep your body running on schedule, he says.

4. Build steps into your itinerary.If you’re someone who thrives in (or after) a sweaty workout and wants to incorporate that on vacation, it’s easier than ever to find one away from home. Beyond the hotel gym (many of which are not-so-standard these days, with luxe amenities like climbing walls and fancy lap pools), apps like Mindbody and Classpass can help you discover local Pilates classes, spin studios, and more.

But if that feels a little too structured for your vacay vibe, simply making an effort to walk as much as you can (and want to)—back and forth on the beach, on a hike, while sightseeing—is a 10/10 way to move your body and feel good. You’ve probably heard that walking has a ton of health benefits; it’s been shown to lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, for two. And because it’s also been linked to everything from improved sleep to a better mood, a higher step count might help you feel more like yourself on your trip too.

A brisk pace (say, while on a museum tour or hitting up local shops for souvenirs) might even be as beneficial for your long-term health as a run, by the way: One large study of walkers versus runners found that moderate-intensity walking and higher-intensity running may similarly reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

5. Practice happy bowel habits.Yet another reason to get moving: It can help keep you regular. Traveling and being out of your routine can really mess with your poop, Samantha Nazareth, MD, a gastroenterologist based in New York, tells SELF. In a 2017 study of more than 600 Boston-area travelers, for example, 40% reported the aptly named traveler’s diarrhea or other general (but still not fun) GI symptoms like constipation, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain on a recent trip. It’s especially common to have trouble pooping when you’re away from home, Dr. Nazareth says. (In that same study, 42% of the participants who suffered from general GI troubles said constipation was an issue for them.)

Frequent walks are one way to prevent yourself from getting too backed up. And while you should eat what’s satisfying and makes you feel good, Dr. Nazareth says incorporating more high-fiber foods (think adding blueberries to yogurt or choosing whole grain toast for breakfast) can keep things moving along in your gut.

If you already know travel constipation is something you struggle with, you can also consider packing a stool softener, just in case. Just know that some OTC laxatives can be really intense (and some may, er, have the opposite effect by giving you the runs), so talk to your doc if you’re not sure what makes sense for you. (Dr. Nazareth likes magnesium citrate, a relatively gentle saline laxative that softens your poop so it’s easier to pass.)

And very important: “Don’t resist the urge to go because it’s a new place,” Dr. Nazareth says, warning that holding in your poop, as SELF previously reported, is a really great way to become constipated. That’s because the longer stool sits in your colon, the hardier and drier it gets—and more painful to push out. We know, easier said than done when you’re waiting in line for the airport bathroom or desperately hunting down a Porta Potti, but answering nature’s calls is always the right move.

6. Keep your fluids up.Not only is plane air super dry, thanks to those famously low humidity levels, but you may be drinking more alcohol on vacation than you would at home. Plus, it’s all too easy to forget to refill your glass or water bottle when you’re out of your regular routine, sightseeing, and generally thinking about more fun stuff than what color your pee is. All together, it’s a recipe for dehydration.

This situation can be super serious (severe symptoms like confusion, rapid breathing, and shock require a 911 call, FYI), but even a mild case can make you feel tired, dizzy, and overall not great. And not drinking enough water can also throw off your sleep, digestion, and mood.

You should aim for around 11.5 to 15.5 cups of liquid per day, according to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. But keeping your fluids up doesn’t need to look like a massive water bottle that you sip on nonstop (although great if that’s your thing!). Along with regularly drinking plain H2O (or flavored water or seltzer), eating lots of high-water content fruits and veggies can also help you meet that daily hydration goal, Lauren Twigge, RD, a registered dietitian based in Dallas, tells SELF. (Watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, sliced peppers, and cantaloupe all fit the bill).

Another (delicious) option: Chocolate milk. “Research shows it can hydrate better than water because of its naturally occurring electrolytes, high water content, and ideal three-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio,” Twigge says.

7. Pack some snacks—or full-on meals—you love for travel days.It’s hard to stick to your usual routine in general on vacation, but doubly hard on travel days—which are long, unstructured, and can leave you feeling extra out of sorts. You can’t control a flight delay or the limited food options in your terminal, but you can plan ahead with a few pre-packaged snacks in your carry-on.

Bringing a few foods you know you like “allows you to honor your hunger when it emerges,” Rumsey says. That might include easy grab-and-gos like granola bars, beef jerky, nut butter packs, trail mix, and oatmeal, but she also points out that many people forget they’re totally allowed to bring actual meals through security. (TSA just limits liquids above 3.4 ounces; food is fine.)

So if you know airport food doesn’t always appeal to you (or you just want to save money—it’s freaking expensive!), consider packing things like grain-based salads and sandwiches, Rumsey says. That way, you’re less likely to wind up eating a meal that doesn’t sit well with you out of desperation, or turning into a hangry demon.

A final note before we send you on your way: Give yourself permission to ditch even the loosest definition of a “health routine” if it’s not serving you. As solid as the advice above is, if we do say so ourselves, you’re still away from home and that means things won’t always go as you planned. But “it’s a week or two, in the scheme of things,” Rumsey says. “You’re likely going to be in a different routine, and yeah, it might feel uncomfortable at times—but it’s not the end of the world.”


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