Does exercise on vacation build endorphins for sanity?

Does exercise on vacation build endorphins for sanity?
Grateful in hindsight for this rough climb

Jason Gay characterizes active vacations in his hilarious Wall Street Journal column, "Exercise on Vacation: Essential or Pure Evil?" He eloquently writes, "Amature athletes no longer take holidays... Fitness is another thing we've dragged on vacation with us, along with our emails conference calls... I want to be one of those smug vacation exercisers."

If you regularly exercise, it makes sense to maintain that momentum when you travel or take time off. It may also distract you with gratitude from the occasional travel fail.

To help minimize inevitable travel stress and anxiety, I try to stay active. As kids, my brother, sister and I ran on the beach. We walked a couple miles each way for ice cream. As we got a little older we golfed with our Dad in Ireland before the pubs.

Capri, Italy in 2000

Capri, Italy in 2000

The first time I visited Italy with a family friend  I babysat, their native relatives insisted I "mangia" or eat all the time. You drink wine and feast on pasta out of respect for your elders in Italy. I jogged along the Adriatic Sea during the day to keep up with the little ones.

When a friend and I visited Italy after college, our back packs were our weight bearing challenge. We walked miles along charming streets to find the next pizzeria where wine cost less than water.

Travel disrupts normal routine, which may fuel new chaos. The chance to exercise on different types of "vacation" experiences may help one regain composure and practice gratitude. These simple steps may help one inch toward sanity.

  1. Make a plan. My 2004 work conference in Honolulu fell during one of my first triathlon programs. Friends called from their taxi as I huffed and puffed toward Diamond Head's volcanic cone. I redeemed a luxurious stay at nearby Turtle Bay Hotel that I won in a meeting planner raffle. I thought through the training program as the only single person in the hot tub. Free fitness center access for hotel guests suited my tight budget. My workout challenge helped define purpose as a solo traveler in a romantic setting.

  2. Embrace your surroundings. Although reluctant as a 26-year-old sun bather, my Mom coaxed me to swim with her in the Mediterranean Sea. We walked off sangria in the Sienna Square. We admired the gardens of Grenada. I ran around Washington monuments and Central Park during other work meetings in my early twenties.

  3. Research. Years later, I tried to keep up with my husband in 100 degree weather as we hiked the ancient pyramids in Egypt during our honeymoon. When we weren't scuba diving, I took a break from paradise in the fitness center on the Red Sea. Crabby and exhausted while pregnant with our oldest, I trekked for miles in Paris with my husband. He later played with the boys while I hit the hotel gym in Jamaica and Mexico. We did bicep curls with tropical drinks. Years later, we hiked the mountains with the boys on our backs in Arizona and Colorado for excruciating challenges for yours truly.

  4. Catch your breath. Family games of horseshoe and bocce ball in the shade of summer Arizona heat fulfilled my workout need this summer. I carried our reluctant four-year-old toward the end of our family hike in the desert. The kids and I actually slept in while their Dad embarked on his own ten mile hike while we slept past 10:00 a.m. The boys and I ran up Dove Mountain dozens of times during that trip. I gasped in wonder at our surroundings as we soared down the almost 250 foot water slide.



Despite high expectations and good intentions, vacations frustrate the best of us. Working out may help balance travel perspective. As the movie Legally Blonde explains, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy..."

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