A Guide to Staying Healthy and Stress-free While on Vacation

As humans, we need rest just as much as we need food and water. However, while the need for food and water obviously cannot be ignored for long without some seriously detrimental consequences, adequate rest is something most people are guilty of ignoring to an unhealthy degree. According to the National Sleep Foundation,1 adults aged 26 to 64 years of age need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night in order to maintain optimal physical and mental health; however, a Gallup poll in 2013 reported that 40 percent of Americans get less than seven hours per night. And sleep deprivation and stress go hand in hand. In fact, the more sleep deprived we are, the less efficient we become at dealing with stress.3 According to the recently released survey on stress by the American Psychological Association,2 Americans are reporting the highest levels of stress ever in the report’s 10-year history. Sounds like we all could use a vacation.

Do we really need to take vacations?

Research shows that vacations have many positive benefits on health and well-being.5 A study in 2000 observed the vacation habits of middle-aged men with a high risk of coronary heart disease. The researchers discovered that among these men, those who took vacations more frequently had a lower risk of heart disease than those who didn’t.9 And a 2005 study examined the effects vacations had on depression among women. The investigators or more vacations per year had lower instances of depression, tension, tiredness, and marital dissatisfaction than women who vacationed only once every two years.8 With depression accounting for a $23 billion loss in American productivity in 2013, the absolute necessity for vacations is apparent (Gallup).

            Summer is winding down and Fall is right around the corner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little time off. Maybe your ideal vacation involves a week of lying about on the couch in your underwear, eating potato chips and watching daytime talk shows. Well, that’s better than no vacation at all. However, for those of you ready to seize your vacation in a health-conscious way, we’ve got some suggestions to help you get the most out of that time off so that you can return to work feeling rejuvenated, both in mind and body, and ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.

Make a few of your own meals

Often, while on vacation, we develop a specific mentality—“No holds barred! Anything goes… because, darn it, I’m on vacation!” This mentality is likely to influence the way you eat during your time off, and while there’s nothing wrong with a few indulgences, pigging out on foods high in salt, sugar, and fat too frequently can leave you feeling sluggish and unhappy (Healthline). One way to avoid the junk food blues while on vacation is to balance fast food eats and rich restaurant meals with a few meals you prepare yourself.

                With vacation innovations such as Airbnb (see sidebar on adjacent page), it’s easier than ever to score lodgings that come with a complete kitchen, no matter where you go. Cooking a few of your own meals while on vacation can help you remain mindful of portion sizes and nutrition content…and save money. A recent study concluded that families who cooked at home more frequently rated higher on the Healthy Eating Index. These families were not only healthier, but they also spent less money overall on food.6

After preparing a home-away- from-home-cooked meal in your vacation kitchen, take your vacation nutrition one step further by preparing some healthy, portable snacks for you and your family while you’re out seeing the sights. Studies show that planning and packing foods ahead of time leads to a healthier, more nutritionally varied diet.11 Take pre-packed snacks with you during your romps around town or trips to the beach; with some healthy options on hand, you’ll be better prepared to resist the urge to grab that giant soft pretzel after a long museum tour or that fattening ice cream cone from the beachside creamery. Instead, try lightly salted pumpkin seeds or dates blended with almond butter and cashews rolled into bite-sized balls (Greatist). Snacks such as these are quick, easy, and don’t require refrigeration. See page 15 for some healthy snack recipes you can make on the road.

Plan Ahead

Before you leave for vacation, Registered Dietician Julie Upton recommends eating healthfully and cutting back on treats two days for every one day you’ll be on vacation. So if you’re planning a week-long vacation, stick to your healthy diet for the two weeks prior to leaving, in order to make up for those splurges you know you will enjoy while vacationing.

            While on vacation, cooking your own meals and packing your homemade snacks can be a great way there’s no doubt that you’re going to be eating out quite a bit, especially if you’ve chosen a trip destination known for its local fare. The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics recommends planning ahead before going out to eat by browsing the menus of local restaurants and choosing what you’ll order beforehand. The extra time spent researching the menus helps to ensure balanced, thoughtful food choices. In addition, if you know you’re heading to Big Bob’s Burger Barn for its famous Blue Cheese Bacon Burger, opt for a light salad and lean protein at lunch to keep your day moderately balanced. And, instead of ordering the traditional side of fries to go with that burger, order a side salad or steamed vegetables (Eatright.org). You might also consider splitting that fattening burger or other entreé with one of your traveling companions, especially if you are vacationing in the United States, where individual portions in restaurants are usually quite large and often more than enough food for two people (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).

Skip the High-Calorie Cocktails

Possibly the most insidious source of calories and sugar that you’ll encounter on your respite from work is the beloved cocktail. You’ve probably been looking forward to spending the majority of your trip sipping margaritas with your toes in the sand. And who can blame you? But take it easy on those cocktails! Indulge in too many sugary libations, and you likely won’t be able to see past your growing waistline to see those sandy toes (or walk a straight line, for that matter). A look at the nutritional information from a national restaurant chain reveals the exorbitant calorie and sugar content found in some of our favorite cocktails. For example, a classic margarita contains 320 calories and 32 grams of sugar, a Long Island iced tea boasts 330 calories and 48 grams of sugar, and a blackberry sangria contains 270 calories and 29 grams of sugar (Applebees). The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that our daily consumption of sugar be capped at 50 grams per day for a person consuming a standard 2,000/day calorie diet, so any of these evening cocktails could account for almost all of your sugar allowance for the day (fda.gov). But don’t climb on the wagon yet! Try “skinny” cocktails, such as plain or flavor-infused vodka on ice with soda water and just a splash of cranberry or orange juice (about 95 calories, 0 grams added sugar). Other low-calorie options includeafive-ounceservingofdry sparkling wine (100 calories), pinot noir (120 calories), riesling (120 calories), or sauvignon blanc (120 calories). (Check out the adjacent page for some yummy “skinny” cocktail recipes that are big in taste but low in calories.)

                And remember, though it is fun to indulge occasionally, try to keep your alcohol consumption limited to 1 to 2 alcoholic beverages daily while on vacation. By moderating your intake of alcohol, you’ll not only avoid consuming excess calories, you’ll feel better and will avoid the negative healtheffectsthatcomewithdrinking too much alcohol. (You’ll probably remember your vacation a lot better too).

Choose an Outdoorsy location you know you’ll enjoy

Where you choose to vacation is just as important as what you plan to do on your vacation. Studies have shown that a trip to either a mountainous landscape or coastal region has healthy weight- management and psychological benefits. Spending 90 minutes in any natural setting has been proven to decrease maladaptive activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotion and behavior. This leads to a decrease in rumination (negative over-thinking about something distressing), depression, and anxiety.7 Findings from another survey of families living in coastal regions show that spending time in beach areas contributes to stress relief and encourages increased physical activity.4

With fall around the corner, you might consider foregoing the usual trip to the beach and head for the hills. A University of Texas study concluded that mountain vacations are the most memorable destination type for a vacation. A close second included small towns, beaches, and amusement parks, while the least memorable vacation spotswerecities.11 Youmighteven lose weight in the mountains. One study in 2014 showed that those living at a higher altitude were less at lower altitudes, and that overweight individuals might lose weight by visiting places situated at higher altitudes.12 This is partially due to the smaller amounts of oxygen found in mountain air, a deficiency that one study proved acts as an appetite suppressant.10

Whether you’re interested in a coastal getaway or a mile-high respite, you’re bound to reap positive health benefits from your vacation, especially if you are able to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Work in those workouts

Both mountain and beach destinations also encourage ample types of exercise from vacationers through the countless outdoor activities available at either location. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and kayaking are all great activities that will get the entire family outside enjoying the mountain air. On the beach, walking or jogging along the water or tossing a Frisbee will get your heart rate up.

A few walking tours can also keep you in good health while on vacation. With modern ridesharing innovations such as Lyft and Uber, it can be easy to ignore the prospect of walking in favor of a quicker car ride. However, walking during your vacation has countless health benefits. Walking for just 21 minutes a day can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent. In addition, walking can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 14 percent, as well as ease joint pain and boost immunity. Enjoy a few sightseeing tours on foot during your vacation, and you’ll return in better health than when you left.

Hiking can also be a great way to have fun, de-stress, and improve physical health while on vacation. Studies have found that walking up and down hills have specific metabolic and anti-inflammatory health benefits. In addition, research shows that exposure to nature while mountain hiking can alleviate depression.d.

However, your entire vacation doesn’t have to be centered around physical activity. You can be a little lazy too! Just make sure to strike a balance. Chris Freytag, certified personal trainer and health coach, advises her clients to use the Two-Day Rule to keep themselves accountable when it comes to fitting in exercise. The rule stipulates never going more than two consecutive days without working out, and this includes during vacation! There’s no need to skip an excursion with your family just to fit in a daily workout, just be sure to plan some physical activity during your vacation at least once every two days—and this simple rule can help you stay fit on vacation without putting too much pressure on yourself to work out every day. For a week-long trip, that’s about three solid workouts—definitely doable! [EatHealthyU]

Relax and enjoy yourself

It really is possible to enjoy a fun, relaxing, rejuvenating vacation with your family and improve your health at the same time! Being stressed and unrested is bad for your health, so stop longing for that relaxing get-away, and make that vacation happen! It’s for your health.

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