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Declines in fitness start after a week of inactivity. But you can work in workouts on vacation.

Make a plan to  fit time for exercise in your vacation.
Make a plan to fit time for exercise in your vacation. (iStock)
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It’s vacation season, and we all agree we should take a break from work. But that doesn’t mean we should take a break from working out. Working out is a great habit that once broken can be hard to pick back up. But you can still fit it into your overseas tour or beach visit.

“The priority is still the vacation. The question becomes how and what can we incorporate to stay active? If we’re at the beach, maybe we do some paddleboarding, beach jogging, bike rides,” says Victor Maldonado, a personal trainer in Washington.

Kathy Pugh, a Washington running coach, doesn’t just advise her clients to go on running tours when they visit new places, she does it herself. This summer, she and her 14-year-old daughter, Ava, jogged through the streets of Cleveland. “We probably logged at least a 10K one of the days,” Pugh says. But better yet, their running tours were lined with street art and views of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, and punctuated by a visit to West Side Market and a glorious lunch of pizza and cannolis in Cleveland’s Little Italy. “It was a culture, art, foodie run tour, and never once did we have to find and pay for parking,” Pugh says.

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It’s true that running tours and paddleboarding don’t exactly equate to a one-hour spin class, or several sets of dead lifts and pull-ups. But unless you’re training for a marathon (more on that later) or are on a very long vacation (more on that later, too) it’s not so important to perfectly replicate what you’re doing fitness-wise at home, says Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for the American Council on Exercise.

“I recommend moving away from the ‘all or nothing’ mind-set that is so common when it comes to fitness and nutrition,” Matthews says. “The key to developing and maintaining lasting healthful habits is to remain flexible in your approach.”

This can mean not only different physical activities, but splitting up your desired minutes of exercise per day into smaller portions. “An example could be performing 10 minutes of body-weight exercises in your hotel room first thing in the morning, a 10-minute swim in the pool in the afternoon after lunch, and a 10-minute walk around town in the evening to soak up the sights,” says Matthews.

If you need motivation, consider what doing nothing on vacation can cost you. Here the principle of reversibility — which Matthews sums up as “if you don’t use it, you lose it” — comes into play. According to Mathews, the body starts experiencing changes after as little as one week of inactivity. Declines in cardiorespiratory fitness begin after seven to 10 days (strength, however, doesn’t begin declining until three weeks or more of inactivity).

That means that if you’re training for a marathon, you might not be able to take it quite as easy on vacation, Pugh says. Instead, you might seek out local running clubs or ask a concierge to help you map out a safe running route.

Even if you’re not training for a marathon but you are vacationing for weeks on end, you might want to check out the local gym and see if they offer week passes, says Maldonado, who often gives his clients workout programs for the road, including a non-gym body-weight workout (see examples at the end of the story).

“You can do a lot with body-weight exercises like lunges and squats, sit-ups and push-ups,” Maldonado says. “You also start looking for ‘hidden’ equipment. Maybe a couch can be used for [triceps] dips?”

Another important aspect of not coming back from vacation feeling discouraged and out of shape is to keep an eye on vacation eating — in a mindful, not punishing way, Matthews says. If you’re going to indulge in boardwalk french fries or ice cream sundaes, then do so without guilt or shame and focus on eating vegetables and fruits and other foods in their whole state. She also recommends broiled, baked and grilled over sauteed and fried food, as well as keeping healthful snacks such as raw almonds on hand.

Maldonado, who agrees about guilt-free indulgences, warns his clients not to try to make up for indulging in boardwalk fries by taking a walk around the block. “That’s a false equivalency and it can also make exercise seem like punishment,” he says. (A true exercise equivalency for that 500-plus calorie portion of boardwalk fries — just FYI — would be for a 150-pound person to jog for one hour.)

The bottom line is that vacationers should return re-energized and ready to continue making healthy choices every day. Maldonado puts it this way: “Fitness is so much more than a number on a scale and the size of your waist. It’s about healthy habits and having energy and community.”

Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer. She can be found at

Exercising on vacation

To give you an idea of what’s possible on the road, here are a couple of exercises from personal trainer Victor Maldonado that can be done with a hotel room towel or a beach towel.

Isometric towel curl — 20 reps (per arm), 3 sets

* Using a towel, grip one end of the fabric tightly in one hand, while placing your foot on the other end of the towel. This is your starting position.

* Position your forearm so it is parallel to the ground and your elbow is positioned tightly at your side.

* Pulling up on the towel, contract your biceps tightly. Because you are standing on the other end of the towel, the fabric will not move, but you will feel the contraction in the biceps. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds.

* Relax your arm, and complete the recommended number of exercises. Once completed, switch the towel to your other hand and repeat.

Standing towel row: 20 reps, 3 sets

* Wrap a long beach towel around a pole and grab onto each end with a hand. Place your feet at the base of the pole and lean back so that your arms are straight. This is the starting position.

* Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels as you pull yourself forward with your arms, keeping your elbows tucked close into your ribs.

* Retract your shoulder blades toward the midline of your back. Pause once your hands have come to your chest and your shoulders are fully contracted, then slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.

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