The intricate choreography of business travel — with its dance of airports, taxis, hotels, jetlag, meetings, dinners and other professional obligations — can have a paralyzing effect on even the best-laid fitness plans. The result, unfortunately, can be unwanted inches and extra pounds. And since a lack of exercise also contributes to fatigue and mental fog, the consequences of not working out can extend to a diminished creative edge in those very same meetings you flew halfway across the planet to attend.
Admittedly, the brutal pace of business travel, along with the inexplicably locked doors of hotel fitness centers in the evening, can make working out an enormous challenge — but not an insurmountable one. Top fitness pros agree that maintaining your fitness goals while traveling just requires some strategic planning.
Before you even begin to pack — whether or not you belong to a gym — schedule a session with a personal trainer who can design a program that can be followed within the confines of a hotel room.
“Hiring a personal trainer or yoga instructor to formulate a plan specifically for you is the best and most efficient way to achieve and maintain your fitness goals,” offers celebrity trainer and yoga instructor Holly Mosier, owner of L.A. Boxing. “Having a trained professional analyze your specific needs — including the fact that your program will need to be mobile and able to be continued while traveling — is a smart investment.”
Next, pack like you mean it. Since you can’t count on the gym being open when you have some down time, load a workout or yoga DVD onto your laptop, stash some light exercise equipment into your carry-on and be sure you have appropriate clothing and shoes.
“You can carry DVDs with you and play them either in the hotel or on your computer,” says best-selling author and television personality Jillian Michaels, known for her roles on NBC’s hit series The Biggest Loser and Losing It with Jillian. “Pack some resistance bands. They’re lightweight and won’t take up much room in your suitcase. A jump rope is another great way to include cardio in your day when you have a limited amount of time. Some hotels even have exercise on-demand videos in guestrooms, which is something to look for when booking your travel.”
Travel days have a tendency to take on a life of their own, and that includes spiraling out of control. Dennis Grounds of Training Grounds for Life, one of Los Angeles’ most sought-after personal trainers, specializes in combining cardio circuit, core training, Pilates and life coaching. “When you wake up,” he suggests, “the first thing — after coffee, of course — you should do is take 10 minutes to stretch, do some push-ups, jog in place or do any type of physical movementt in your room.”
By doing this, he explains, you get rid of any stagnant energy and get your heart rate up, therefore bringing more oxygen into your lungs and increasing your energy for the day. “If you can find 10 minutes in other parts of your day, perhaps while you’re on a break, make it a point to walk, move around and be active,” he adds. “Remember that just because you’re away from your normal workout routine doesn’t mean you have to put your health and well-being on hold. You just have to be more creative and give your body something new and different to try. I teach from the perspective of shifting the context of how you view exercise, and of considering what will shift you into actually doing it.”
That means being motivated. Lisa H. Lollar, a Denver-based sports psychologist and certified consultant for the Association of Applied Sports Psychology, reminds us that when it comes to staying motivated, attitude can be a powerful tool. Even more important, she suggests, are goal setting and positive reinforcement.
“The most effective goal is quantitative and specific, challenging but realistic and written down,” says Lollar. “In terms of the travel situation, planning ahead as much as possible is helpful. Prior to leaving, take a minute to establish workout goals. Include why you want to work out and what is realistic (don’t overwhelm yourself). Write your goals down and leave room for flexibility. Put working out into your daily schedule just as you would an appointment or meeting. Have a back-up plan, such as walking to an off-site meeting if you can’t get to the hotel gym.”
Other, specific tactics she sees as being successful with clients include writing down the excuses you may use to avoid exercising, then crossing out the excuses and writing down the contrasting reason that you will exercise; calling ahead to find out about workout facilities, classes and walking routes near where you’ll be staying; and posting a motivational quote on your bathroom mirror or programming it to pop up on your BlackBerry when it’s time to exercise.
On Your Toes
At the renowned Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, helping executives stay fit is a specialty. “When our clients say they’re too busy to exercise, especially when they’re traveling, I tell them they don’t have time not to exercise,” says Riva Rahl, M.D., a practicing physician at Cooper and the medical director for Cooper Wellness, the center’s lifestyle modification program.
“On a long-term basis,” she continues, “regular exercise helps prevent heart disease and other illnesses, but in the short term it helps you to be more alert and to sleep better. It helps with jetlag, helps you to better utilize oxygen and has a calming effect. Even with the busiest schedule, it’s important to get creative and think about what your options are. Regardless of whether or not you can fit in a visit to the gym, there’s probably time for some activity. Consider walking to and from dinner or your meeting rather than taking a cab. In general, everyone needs 150 minutes throughout the course of the week, but this can be accumulated at 10 minute intervals. You can spend 10 minutes at an airport walking between gates.”
It might seem counter-intuitive when your body is screaming for an early night, but what you may actually need to combat fatigue is to engage in something physical — even if that’s a walk around a city block or hauling yourself up and down the hotel stairs. Sleep is often the first casualty of business travel, but even if you’re faced with no more than five hours for shut-eye, Rahl says that taking just 20 minutes to exercise before you climb beneath the covers will result in deeper, more restorative rest.
If you simply can’t keep your eyes open long enough, set the clock for a few minutes earlier in the morning and exercise then — you’ll be more efficient and alert throughout the day. Exercise, explains L.A. Boxing’s Mosier, helps fight off lethargy by increasing oxygen consumption and pumping up blood circulation, helping to deliver more oxygen to the muscles and, perhaps more importantly, the brain.
“This helps you to think more clearly and helps elevate mood,” says Mosier. “Remember, too, that stress is a major contributor to fatigue, and exercise is a prime stress-reduction tool. We dissipate the stress hormones in our body through physical activity. And it’s not necessary to exercise vigorously or at a high intensity to enjoy these benefits. Even a five-minute walk will help to de-stress and invigorate you, especially if that walk is outside. Studies have found that outdoor activity helps us to release more endorphins (the feel-good hormones) than indoor exercise.”
Yoga — regardless of your experience level — is a effective and extremely travel-friendly way to relieve fatigue, so that you’re more likely to work out. “I think the best all-around pose to stretch, recharge and shake off any negative traveling vibes is Downward Dog,” says Rita Trieger, founder and editor-in-chief of Fit Yoga magazine and author of Yoga Heals Your Back. Trieger, who serves as the stress management facilitator at Stamford Hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Stamford, Conn., says that beginners can modify this pose by placing the hands on a wall at about shoulder height and then simply stepping away from the wall with their hands still in place, adjusting their foot position as necessary.
“You’ll get a great stretch in the upper back and shoulders especially, as well as the hamstrings, two of the most common areas of stress and tightness,” says Trieger. “Also, Triangle Pose offers a great side stretch and hip-opening element with the added bonus of massage for the internal organs, specifically for the heart. Plus, your body takes on the shape of the most sacred and ancient of symbols — the triangle is said to bring cosmic energy into the body. What could be better after going through airport security?”
The pros are seemingly unanimous that applying the creative problem-solving skills that work in business toward personal exercise goals is a formula for success.
“Often,” says personal trainer Grounds, “we use our ‘very busy schedules’ as an excuse not to work out. The truth is, time is an invented conversation we are having with ourselves. Time is eternity! Either we manage our time or time will manage us. It’s important to view your workouts as a lifestyle behavior rather than something you have to force yourself to do.”
You can take your workout with you by following these tips.
* Hire a personal trainer to design a travel workout
* Pack workout clothes, resistance bands and jump rope
* Load a workout or yoga DVD onto your laptop
* Load your favorite workout music onto your iPod
* Check hotel gym times; arrange for access as necessary
* Hold business meetings while on a walk
* Skip the taxis and walk to meetings
* Use hotel stairs as a workout option
* Break your workouts into two 10-minute events daily
* Stretch at regular intervals throughout the day
* Practice deep yogic belly breaths to reduce stress and fatigue
* Drink adequate water and don’t consume more calories than you burn
* Remember that one glass of wine is about 150 calories; one glass a day for a year is equivalent to 15 pounds of fat
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