Monday, March 30, 2009

Keeping Healthy On The Road

Keeping a Healthy Balance On The Road:

Strategies For Traveling Well

Travel is one of the great joys of life. It enlightens us, enriches us, entertains us, and broadens us. But sometimes that broadening takes place around our hips, and sometimes we abandon our healthy habits of diet and exercise when we’re away from home.

I’m a travel writer, away from home many weeks of the year. In the past twelve months, I’ve been to the Middle East twice, Arizona, Antigua, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Jamaica, Australia and Florida. I’ve learned from experience that it’s important to keep my life in balance when on the road.

It’s never easy to stick to a good healthy diet and a sensible exercise routine, but trying to maintain healthy habits while on the road is a challenge. What’s the point of visiting a world capital like Paris, for example, if you are too tired and bloated to get out there and explore it?

Just glance around the waiting areas of most airports or train stations. Food options, by and large, are burger joints or bars. Breakfast offerings are usually calorie laden Danishes and muffins. On board food is usually a choice between the unhealthy and the inedible.

Add to that the fact that travel, whether by train, plane or automobile, is largely sedentary, and you have the perfect prescription for putting on pounds, depleting your energy, and turning those previously toned muscles to mush.

But there are some healthy options out there.

Who better to turn to for advice on traveling healthy than those who do it for a living? The Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) is a Canadian organization of travel writers and tourism groups who collectively log an astounding number of hours on the road. Ottawa-based Laura Byrne Paquet, for example, is the past president of TMAC and has worn out a few suitcases. “I’ve had to develop a smart travel regimen in self defence.”

Her tips for keeping a healthy balance while traveling:

- Carry granola bars or meal replacement bars in your carry-on bag.

- Do yoga or other basic stretches when you're stuck in the airport between flights. Forget how silly you'll look. You'll never see any of these people again anyway. If you're really self-conscious, do your stretching behind a pillar or at a different gate from the one for your flight.

- Don’t overpack. If your bag is light, you'll be less likely to strain muscles.

- When you're eating out a lot, have your big meal at lunch. It will be cheaper than dinner, and you'll have more time to work it off during the day.

- Ask the concierge at your hotel for scenic, safe walking or jogging routes nearby.

Bob Fisher, another TMAC member , has just returned from trips to Britain and New Mexico, and is getting ready for a flight to Florida. He always travels with a set of soft earplugs, so sleeping on long flights is easier. He has a set of stretching exercises, designed specially for him by a professional, that he does several times a day when traveling, and he also takes along a well-stocked emergency kit that includes painkillers, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen, anti-nausea medicine and anti-allergy pills.

He’s a big believer in keeping hydrated.

“I drink water frequently everywhere I go. The rule of thumb is that you are becoming dehydrated even before you feel thirsty. Even a small amount of dehydration can destabilize your whole system.”

New restrictions on carrying liquids onboard will prevent airline passengers from taking bottles of water with them, but most airlines provide water. Just make sure that what you are drinking is bottled water, and not water from the plane’s water supply, which has been found to contain dangerous levels of bacteria.

Carol Mathews, the chair of TMAC’s Nova Scotia chapter, is another busy writer who has learned to survive the stress of travel. “On transatlantic flights I make sure I walk the length of the plane and back every couple of hours. It helps to keep the blood circulating, and can help reduce swelling in your ankles and feet.”

“Something that I've just started doing is carrying antiseptic wipes. I used to carry a bottle of waterless wash, but new regulations prohibit that. Since we are more susceptible to germs and viruses we're not used to, I use the wipes several times during the day,” Carol explains.

“I'll probably jinx myself,’ she laughs, “but I've never been ill on a trip.

Michele Sponagle, is another busy TMAC member. Her recent journeys have included Italy, Switzerland, Jamaica, Maui, Arizona, Newfoundland, Antigua, Dominican Republic, Walt Disney World (3 times!) and Vermont. Here’s how she insures a safe and healthy trip:

* pre-packaged dehydrated fruit "strips" so that I can always get my daily requirement of fruit servings.

* green tea bags. I prefer herbal teas so I bring my own.
*When I arrive, I try to get to a grocery store to buy fruit, vegetables, and yogurt then empty the mini bar at the hotel and put in my food for healthy snacks when I'm hungry.
* stick to your regular three meals a day, and small snacks, when hungry.
*I also bring resistance bands and my running shoes wherever I go. With them, you don't have to have a hotel with a fitness centre to get some exercise.

Anna Hobbs is a travel writer with an enviable problem. She specializes in culinary and wine writing at the different places she visits. As a result, she eats like royalty. She should weigh hundreds of pounds, but has remained slim and trim, mostly through her wise choices.

“I dread coming home five pounds heavier than when I left. Because foreign countries always have exciting new foods to try, it would be a shame to miss out on them. So, several days before leaving, I cut back on portion sizes and OD on low cal foods. On the road, I resist bread and rich desserts, often ordering two appetizers instead of an appetizer and a main course or asking for smaller portions.”

While the average traveler doesn’t journey nearly as often as these professionals do, their collective wisdom should help make either the short or long haul trip easier. Their tips, learned from experience, will help you travel well and return healthy.


Eat Smart Away From Home

-You can request special meals on planes if you contact the airline about a week prior to departure. Air Canada, for example, will provide vegetarian, low calorie, and low cholesterol meals on request, on flights for which meals are provided.

- Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee as they are diuretic and will cause fluid loss. Drink water or juice instead.

- Even in the worst airports, you can usually find a bean burrito or veggie burger.

- Stay away from fatty foods. Instead of fries, go for a baked potato and top it with salsa.

- Choose a wrap or a sub over a burger.

- Order your salad dressing on the side. That way you can control the amount that’s on your salad.

- Broth-based soups or fruit juices make good low fat appetizers.

- Choose fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert.

© Barbara Ramsay Orr

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