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MARY GANZEL: End of summer vacations can be healthy ones

HEALTH COLUMN: You can stay fit, even on vacation

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

The end of the summer is a popular time to take a vacation — often it’s an opportunity to relax before getting back into the hectic routine of school. But being on vacation doesn’t require putting your fitness and healthy eating on hold. Almost every vacation destination provides plenty of opportunities for exercise and healthy eating, and the best part is, most of it is family friendly!

Every vacation destination has new sights to take in. Some sights are natural wonders and some are manmade. Whereever you go, Google places of interest in the city/region and explore the area on foot. There is so much to be missed when you are confined within a vehicle. Take walking tours of historic sites. Find out where the local parks are and walk or hike the paths. Rent a bike and bike the trails and explore nature. Walking is great exercise by itself, but to go the extra mile, work in some training segments with your walk. Bring resistance bands along with you and add resistance training segments to your walk. Check your watch and plan to stop at certain intervals for boot camp type drills — walking lunges, burpees, star jumps, or jumping jacks. At the end of the day, you will not only have explored a new territory, but you will have gotten a great workout to go along with it.

When looking for accommodations for your vacation, check out the fitness facilities and pools in potential hotels and resorts. Keep an open mind if the fitness equipment is not what you’re used to — give it a try anyway. It’s important that you’re burning calories and keeping in the habit of working out. A short vacation from an exercise regimen can make it easy to get out of the habit altogether. Most hotels have pools. Don’t be embarrassed to swim laps or take part in your own water aerobics activity. Turn on some music and you may find that others in the pool will join in.

If the hotel doesn’t have a fitness facility but you are staying at the beach, then use the beach as your fitness facility. Walking on sand is a workout for your legs and burns more calories than walking on pavement, so take advantage of this. Think of the ocean or lake as a huge pool in which you can receive a great aerobic workout. Swimming against waves requires you to use more of your core muscles to stay upright — this is an added bonus. If you are vacationing with your family, make physical activity a family affair. Play games like beach volleyball, Frisbee, or tag with the kids. Challenge your kids to jump over the waves as they approach the shore.

Try out a local fitness facility. Maybe your facility at home is part of a chain and has a similar “club” where you are staying. If not, call another workout facility and find out if they have a drop-in fee to take classes or use their facility. Having access to different equipment, different class styles and different instructors is good for your body and mind. You know your physical limitations, so modify exercises as you would do at home but experience it in a new environment. This helps keep your workout fresh and prevents boredom.

If a road trip is on your radar, plan lots of extra time into your drive so you can insert active stops into the trip. Cure the monotony and stiff muscles with regular stops to hike, canoe, swim or play. Even a short walk during a road trip will improve your mood and health. Do your research before you leave and devise a route that offers plenty of opportunities for exercise.

Exercise alone is not going to keep those unwanted pounds off while on vacation. The tendency on vacation is to sit more, eat more, and drink more. Practice moderation with eating while on the road and avoid extra unwanted pounds. With a little advanced planning, you can stay on track with healthy eating while on vacation. Here are few ideas. Pack healthy meals and snacks like fruit, yogurt, packaged lean meats and water in a small cooler to keep it cold. Avoid the expense and the extra calories of fast food restaurants by stopping at a rest stop and having a picnic lunch. It will save you money, get you outside to stretch your legs, and prevent the consumption of extra calories. Investigate the restaurants in the area you plan to visit. Most restaurants post their menu online. Pick restaurants that offer healthy options, and practice portion control. Share an entrée or take half of your meal home in a doggie bag. If you are able to select lodging with a kitchen, sample local ware by visiting farmers’ markets, fish markets and local grocers. Then, prepare healthy meals together as a family. This activity may turn out to be a very memorable one for your kids.

Vacationing doesn’t mean you have to come home feeling guilty for overindulging or skipping your workouts. Find ways to stay on a healthy track while you are away. Easing back into your regular exercise and healthy eating routine will be much easier if you do.

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.