If you are a digital nomad like myself or have done any type of long-term traveling you probably know it can be difficult to stay fit and healthy while traveling.
One of my friends here in Valencia is still working hard to get back in shape and lose the weight she gained while traveling across South-East Asia.
But it’s not so much weight loss or just healthy eating I want to focus on here. I want to address your overall physical health which is affected when traveling long term. Whether it’s from carrying around backpacks for months on end or from working on your laptop at local cafés with uncomfortable chairs that hurt your back. Or just from sleeping on bad mattresses. And what about your exercise routine? Apart from when I lived in St Maarten where I went diving six days per week as part of my job, I know that it normally takes me a while before I get into a good exercise routine.
I recently spent a month working from Medellin, Colombia, where I shared a house with Melissa, a physical therapist from the USA. One evening we met up with a group of digital nomads and ended up talking about back aches, knee injuries and other discomforts while traveling. This is when I realized that it really is harder to keep your body healthy while traveling long term.
So after spending a month with Melissa, receiving so many tips about how to stay fit, prevent back aches, and improve my posture, I asked her if she would like to put some of her tips in writing. And this is the result: 5 practical tips on how to stay healthy during long term travel.
How to stay healthy while traveling long term
It is much easier to get into health routines when your life is stable. Things get more complicated when your life involves a lot of travel, internet cafes, and hotel stays.
Here are some things you can do to keep your body in good shape while you are traveling. You’ll have more energy, a better mood, and you’ll be smarter!
1. Plan for success!
Start planning your potential health habit challenges before your trip. Reschedule your workouts so the travel day is your rest day. Try to work in a walk once you arrive. Wiggle on the plane! Doing ankle pumps or simple stretching exercises can help promote blood flow and help you feel a little less stiff once you arrive.
Look up fitness centers near your destination. Many smaller, privately owned fitness centers offer day passes or short term memberships. A solid workout routine should include moderate intensity cardiovascular training most days per week, strength training for major muscle groups 2-3 days per week, and flexibility exercises intermittently. You can do it!
Planning your workouts ahead of time will help you stay on track while you travel.
2. Deal with your luggage the right way!
Bending, carrying, and lifting injuries are often a result of habitual movements, rather than one specific event. If you are anything like me, you have spent some time sitting on your suitcase to get the zipper closed. Someone has to lug that suitcase across the airport and heave it into the trunk! At 49.9lb (22.6kg for my non-US friends), this is no small feat. This article from OrthoInfo about how to lift and carry luggage the right way is a useful read.
Try to use big muscles to complete big tasks, i.e. bend your knees and use your legs to power lift. If you can’t stand up straight with a bag on your shoulder, it’s probably too heavy. No one wants to deal with back pain instead of enjoying their travel experience!
3. When we rest, we rust!
It’s easy to lose motivation to be active when you spend a few days sitting around. Keeping up with being active is a lot easier than starting a new workout program after time off.
Building exercise into your travel can be as simple as walking to your destinations instead of driving.
If you are traveling for work (or living the digital nomad lifestyle) and spending a lot of time at your computer, try doing a workout in the middle of the day. It’s a nice way to put the stressors of the morning behind you and you can approach the work ahead of you with new energy.
Add some stretches or at least position changes into your sitting work every 20-30 minutes. Healthline has a nice list of stretches you can do at work (or at that coffee shop you are working from).
If your travel plans involve a lot of walking, try doing a yoga routine in the afternoon, before heading for the cocktail lounge.
4. Speaking of cocktails… Check your diet!
It’s a lot easier said than done, but if you want to stay healthy, you have to stay on track with your diet when you travel.
The hard reality is that what you put in your pie-hole will affect your health. Sorry.
It can be really tempting while you travel to indulge, especially if you are trying new foods or dining out a lot. When I was in Medellin, Colombia, I couldn’t get enough limonada de coco. While delicious, the drink added a quick 200 calories per glass to my daily intake. One glass of pinot noir was 125 calories (checked for a friend, of course). One “serving” of typical Colombian food, “Bandeja Paisa” packed a whopping 2,500 calorie punch.
Cooking some meals on your own can really help. Look for healthy options and watch your portion sizes. The MyPlate app makes it easy to track your daily calorie/nutrient intake. Monitoring your overall intake allows you to indulge without going overboard.
Let’s be honest, stress doesn’t go away when we travel. Even the most experienced travelers get frustrated adapting to new environments sometimes. Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and can definitely affect our overall health.
Regular cardiovascular exercise can help.
Can you tell I am a physical therapist with all the exercise plugs? Some example relaxation techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness or mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, etc. Here’s a useful document with relaxation techniques you might want to check out. And Youtube also has plenty of free guided relaxation videos.
Another way to relax is to get outside! There are some great studies on the positive effects of being in nature. During challenging travel situations, relaxation can mean something as simple as a mental shift from focusing on the problem to focusing on the solution. Learn to have an open mind about the cultural differences you encounter.
There’s now some pretty good evidence behind the old saying “Stop and smell the roses”!
Take care of yourself and stay healthy during your long term travels
Taking good care of your body requires some effort, but it’s worth it.
Good health involves a combination of dealing with medical issues, eating right, staying active, and taking care of our mental state. It can be done when you travel with a little planning.
Enjoy your travels and stay healthy!
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