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Healthy holidays: Traveling with your diet and exercise routine

Travel complicates a diet and exercise regime. Here, nutrition expert Christopher Gardner and doctor-chef Michelle Hauser offer advice.

Travel gives us a chance to take a break from the routine. This change can be just what the doctor ordered, but what should we do with our diet and exercise plan when we're on the road?

Some people go to great lengths to maintain the same meal plan and workout regimen wherever they are. Others opt to embrace change and try new foods and activities.

What's best for you? Here are some insights from nutrition expert Christopher Gardner, PhD, and doctor-chef Michelle Hauser, MD.

How do you eat right while traveling and/or while staying as a guest in someone else’s home?

Hauser: I make sure not to get stuck hungry anywhere that I’ll be tempted to eat junk food and always pack a few healthy staples. Some of my go-to’s are fruit, nuts or trail mix, whole grain crackers, vegetables, individual servings of peanut butter or hummus, and some of the healthier snack bar options.

For all-day traveling, I also tend to make breakfast at home and take it with me to the airport to eat after getting through security, arrive in time to look at a map and go to a vendor that sells healthy lunch options in the terminal so that I can purchase something to eat on the plane.

When you’re a guest in someone’s home, it’s a good idea to have a short list of items that are easy to have around as healthy snacks (similar to the traveling go-to’s), simple healthy meals, or additions that can be added to improve the healthfulness of a meal—think adding vegetables to a main dish. You can also offer to help with meal preparation or grocery shopping.

Gardner: Plan ahead so you know in advance where you will have the best chance of finding what you want when you need it. While staying as a guest, offer to prepare food for them in gratitude for hosting you. Better yet, choose and prepare dishes with them; kitchen knives, fresh ingredients, and a little culinary creativity often pairs well with high-quality, casual conversations.

Do you exercise more, less, or the same as always over the holidays?

Hauser: I tend to exercise the same amount. The only way that I can make exercise a regular part of my life is to make sure that I schedule it in and that those around me know that it’s important to me. This way, I don’t need to make excuses to make time to exercise (and I don’t have as many excuses to not exercise!). It also saves me time if I know what equipment and time is required and when and where I’m going to exercise so that I don’t have to spend time figuring this out when I’m tired, strapped for time or stressed.

For me, exercise is an essential part of stress-management (along with adequate sleep and eating a healthy diet) and contributes substantially to maintaining a positive mood. I also find that I’m more productive when I exercise than when I don’t— exercise is one of my favorite times to process ideas and come up with solutions to things that I’ve been “stuck” on.

Gardner: Whatever your normal exercise routine might be, if you have one, it can go either way over the holidays. It can be easier to exercise if you have more time than usual for leisure activities and you have ready access to whatever you need (e.g., walking or running trails, a pool, weights). But it can be harder if your holiday schedule is packed with travel and commitment, and if some of your terrain or equipment access is limited.

Either way, think of taking the opportunity to try something other than your regular exercise routine, such as a reasonably distanced trip to a body of water (ocean, lake, river) or wooded hiking trails where you can participate in some leisurely and extended walks or hikes with family and friends. Unplug, and reconnect with the people you care most about, in the places you find most inspiring and peaceful; exercise your body and feed your soul.

This is the final piece in a three-part series on healthy eating over the holidays.

Previously: Healthy holidays: Strategies to help enjoy celebratory foods
Photo by Justin Kern

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