Whether you travel regularly or rarely, you know that one of the biggest challenges of being on the road is maintaining a healthy diet and exercise schedule. But letting your personal fitness program slide can increase your stress levels, reduce your productivity and leave you feeling decidedly unhealthy when you get home.
Make no excuse: Exercise!
You may have to adjust your exercise routine while you’re on the road, but there’s no excuse for not exercising at all. If you run, take along your running shoes and ask the hotel for guidance on choosing a route. Or put on your workout clothes and find a staircase to climb (but do it safely, ideally with a companion and check ahead of time to make sure the stairwells are well-lit and that you’ll have access to the building on every floor). Even a brisk walk will be effective. In fact, walk whenever possible; with this technique, there are no limits to the exercise you can get while exploring new territory. And if you need to have a conversation with someone, do it while walking–it’s good for the other person, too.
Many hotels have workout facilities and pools, so check on that ahead of time, and pack the appropriate clothes and shoes. If your hotel doesn’t have an exercise room, ask if there’s a nearby gym. Or pack a jump rope–it takes up practically no space in your suitcase but provides a healthy cardiovascular workout in the privacy of your room. And remember that exercises such as sit-ups and push-ups require no equipment at all.
Eat and drink in moderation
It can take a great deal of discipline to avoid over-indulging at mealtime, especially in cities known for exceptional dining experiences. Total self-denial isn’t necessary, but moderation will allow you to enjoy yourself without having to pay a hefty price the next day.
Think about what you want to eat before you enter a restaurant and stick to your plan as closely as possible, no matter how many tempting dishes are on the menu. Certainly savor the local cuisine, but do it in a healthy way. Or don’t even look at the menu-just order a healthy meal. Most restaurants will be able to accommodate you.
Eat and drink as close to your at-home schedule as possible. Avoid skipping meals; when you allow yourself to become famished, you’ll tend to overeat at the next meal or consume too much in the way of unhealthy snacks. Take your own health-oriented condiments (butter or salt substitutes, special seasonings, fat-free dressings, etc.) along and don’t be embarrassed about using them discretely even in fine restaurants. After all, you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences of what you eat and drink, not your servers or your dinner companions.
Put yourself first when scheduling
Certainly you’ll have to consider others when making your travel plans, but make your own health and comfort a top priority. If you’re flying across several time zones, especially west-to-east, book a daytime arrival. Then head outside and do something active in the natural daylight–it will help you recover from jet lag faster.
It’s natural to want to maximize your time when you’re traveling, but you should include exercise and rest in your schedule. Plan a specific time each day or every other day to do your exercise routines. Avoid going straight from a day of meetings to an important dinner; refresh yourself with a short nap and a shower. End your evenings early enough to allow yourself time to relax and unwind before falling asleep. And even though breakfast meetings can be extremely productive, getting up earlier than you’re accustomed to can interfere with your sleep patterns and make you tired and dull for the rest of the day.
While you’re on the plane
Dehydration causes fatigue and airplane cabins are extremely dry. Drink plenty of water (that’s water, not coffee, soft drinks or alcoholic beverages) prior to the flight, while you’re en route, and after you arrive. Bring your own water bottle on board and plan to drink at least 8 ounces for each hour you’re in the air. While in flight, avoid alcohol and salty foods and eat lightly. Carry your own healthy snacks with you. If you’re on a meal flight (rare as they are these days), call ahead and request a low-fat or vegetarian dish.
Relieve the monotony of the flight and do something good for yourself by exercising on the plane. This doesn’t mean push-ups in the aisle. Get up and walk the length of the aircraft at least once every hour; it will keep you from feeling stiff when you land and help prevent problems due to poor circulation.
You can also perform discreet exercises while in your seat. For example, relax your jaw and facial muscles by squeezing your eyes and closing your mouth tightly, hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat several times. Open your mouth and “yawn” widely, or mouth the five vowel sounds in an exaggerated way. For shoulders, lift your shoulders then bring them forward and push them down. Then pull them back and return to your starting position. Repeat in the opposite direction.
To stretch and relax your back, extend your arms in front of you and lift them over your head. Lead with your arms and let your head and shoulders curl down toward the floor. Curl back up slowly, stretching the spine.
Leg exercises can be tricky in the confines of a plane, but try this one if you have room. Place both hands under your right thigh and pull your kneed toward your chest. Extend the leg straight in front as far as you can. Relax, bend your knee and return to the original position. Repeat with the other leg. Exercise your buttocks by tightening and squeezing, hold for five to ten seconds, then release. Keep your ankles, feet and toes limber by lifting one foot and writing each letter of the alphabet in the air. Repeat with the other foot.
The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself and make the most of the time you’re on the road. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you’ll be more alert, effective and productive if you stay fit by exercising, eating right and getting adequate rest.