Motivation Or Obligation: Should You Exercise While On Vacation?

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Workouts are called “work” for a reason. So, should a vacation be a break from exercise? Or, are vacations a time to indulge in self-care, including the mental and the physical sides of things. Some regular exercisers see vacations as a way to sneak in other types of training. Things like surfing and walking tours can be physically demanding. But is it enough? 

I connected with three of the fittest people we know to find out if they exercise on their holidays and if it’s worth taking a break or not: Peloton instructor Adrian Williams in NYC, Rumble Boxing manager of training and experience Jess Hiestand, CPT, in West Hollywood and Toronto-based StrongerWithKM owner and fitness influencer Karen Michelle Moreira. Plus, a bit of additional academic research, because that’s how we roll at FLEETSTREET.

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Do you exercise on vacation?

“You can, but you don’t have to,” may seem like a non-answer, but it’s the truth. Fitness experts say it’s an individual decision, as you have to look at your training regime, the intensity you train at, if your body needs the break, and so on.

“If you’re someone who trains regularly, taking a break, especially while on vacation, is important,” says Moreira. “[It] gives you time to recover which is the key to feeling good and longevity with training.”

And, “if you’ve been training hard consistently, you might benefit from a break while you’re on vacation,” says Hiestand. “Our bodies can only take so much strain without rest before the benefits slow down or even stop. If you’ve been grinding, you may find that you come back to your workouts even stronger after a vacation.” 

Funny, that’s never listed in the travel brochure, but it should be included. 

However, says Williams, the benefits of exercise don’t take a break, even on vacation. “Exercising while traveling can boost your mood by releasing endorphins, reducing stress and improving sleep,” he says. “It also helps maintain energy levels and supports overall wellbeing.” 

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Is it OK to not exercise for a week?

Research seems to love breaks. A holiday from exercising can help boost recovery, help avoid injury, even increase the fun factor of a regular ol’ routine, and more. 

Taking a week off? You’ll be OK. In fact, a four-week sabbatical from exercise actually boosted athletic performance in rugby players, according to a California State University study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The authors did suggest, though, that sticking to healthy meals is a good thing to do. Overindulgence can negate the effects of rest. 

So, it’s OK to pause your exercising, but what if you really want to keep on track? What if you like the routine of your day to include squats?

Well, that’s OK, too. “Many people initially start working out for aesthetic reasons, but the long term benefits often shift towards feeling good,” says Williams. “Recognizing this, workouts can be designed to not only achieve physical goals but also prioritize overall well being, incorporating activities that promote mental and emotional health.”

And Hiestand echoes the sentiment of value in committed workouts: “Keeping up a workout routine while on vacation is great for those who find it nearly impossible to get back on track once they’ve fallen off of it. It can make coming home just a little bit easier, if you’ve kept at least this one part of your life consistent while exploring a new city or eating new cuisines.” 

And if you want the best of both worlds (meaning lazy holidays with some movement), Moreira says to keep workouts short, say 20 to 40 minutes. “What I suggest to my clients who want to workout while on vacation is: doing shorter workouts so you get the energy you want without feeling depleted and making sure to walk everyday.” She says vacation workouts don’t have to be “extreme or lengthy to be effective.” 

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What does a change of exercise routine do to the body?

Change is good, as the saying goes. And going on vacation can mean a change in how you exercise, should you decide to stick with it. 

Researchers in Spain showed that varying the types of exercises can increase strength as well as motivation to exercise. Their work was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Switching exercise styles or taking breaks can impact overall fitness differently,” says Williams. “Changing from weights to bodyweight exercises maintains strength but targets muscles differently. Endurance cardio to bodyweight exercises can enhance overall functional fitness.”

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Travel-friendly fitness gear

What are non-negotiables for a packing list? 

“I always make sure to have at least once a pair of versatile workout shoes. Ideally, something I can run in but also would work to lift or box in. I also usually bring a lacrosse ball to help aid in mobility after a long flight.”

– Jess Hiestand @jess.hiestand

“The one thing I always pack are my SWKM hip-booty bands. There are three different resistances, and I use them a lot. What I love about them is how versatile they are and the amount of ways in which I can use them. They take little to no room in luggage and are the one piece of equipment I tell all my clients and members to take with them wherever they go.”

– Karen Michelle Moreira @karenmichellle

“I always use the hotel gym and the Peloton App on my phone. It’s simple, effective and easy. Planning is key. Most of the time when I travel, I pick my hotel based on [its] wellness facility.”

– Adrian Williams @adrianwilliamsnyc
No weights? No problem. Filter bodyweight workouts led by Adrian Williams on the Peloton app.

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Sneaky ways to stay fit on vacation

Even if you don’t lift a weight, there are many, many ways to get active on a vacation. Here’s FLEETSTREET’s top 20 list of sneaky ways to keep fit while on a holiday. 

  1. Try a new adventure. Sign up for a tour that has you mountain biking/hiking the rough, or cycling/walking through the backstreets of a big city. 
  2. Take lessons. Never been on a paddleboard or surfboard? Within the first few days you hit the beach, get lessons from a profesh for a couple of hours and use your new skills in the remaining days of your vacay.
  3. Enjoy the amenities. Check out your hotel gym, recommends Williams. It may have equipment you’ve always wanted to try. Plus, if you’re part of a digital fitness program, you can still log your streaks. 
  4. Try a new class. Maybe it’s something that’s not available where you live. Whenever I visit big cities and urban centres, I’ll search my MindBody app for fun classes I’ve never done before. And you can always stick with the familiar. Hiestand likes to visit a local Rumble Boxing class for fun.
  5. Find a free community event. Part of travelling is meeting locals, and free events are where it’s at. In Paris, I discovered a run crew that ran Sacre Coeur after dark. Heistand also looks for a local run group. 
  6. Check Google Maps. When travelling, our sense of direction can be challenged. Before hopping in an Uber, check to see how far the walk is. And depending on where you’re visiting, a taxi might actually take longer than walking on your own two legs. The traffic in big cities like NYC and Paris are enough to make me want to walk.
  7. Get yourself grounded. Hiestand likes to take a morning run to “take in the sights” and “explore.”
  8. Clock your steps. Walking shouldn’t be discounted, says Moreira. And I’ve found 10,000 steps to a low number for me some days on holidayz, especially when other days I hit over 35,000 steps. 
  9. Take the stairs. Visiting a monument will give you the best views of your destination, so make it even more breathtaking by climbing the stairs to the top, if you can.
  10. Plan for breaks. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes in an eight-hour day of sitting, which can be tough during a road trip. Instead find touristy spots between points A and B for each leg that not only allow you to stretch your legs but log some steps, too. 

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Background photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash.

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Do I work out on vacation?

Sometimes I exercise on vacation. I’ve booked workouts in Paris and fitness classes in New York City. And sometimes I just spend my days as a walking tourist. 

Heistand endorses both approaches. “I’m a believer that people should do movement that’s enjoyable for them, even in their regular fitness routine. On vacation – a time to get rid of stress and enjoy life – that should 100% be the case. If you’re going work out, make it fun.”

Whatever I do, I see movement as part of my vacation experience, discovering where I’m visiting. Sometimes that means wearing cross trainers, and sometimes that means cute sandals.