You can travel the world and start or maintain a healthy exercise regime while you are doing it. Here’s how.
Last week I went through the fundamentals of maintaining a healthy lifestyle on your gap year, and hopefully gave you just a little bit of the basic knowledge you need to keep yourself fit and healthy when you are travelling long term. This week I want to focus on putting a little bit of that knowledge into practice and give you 5 quick tips on how to get a good workout on your backpacking adventures.
It doesn’t matter whether you had a relatively healthy lifestyle before you started your travels or if you had never exercised in your life, it is so easy to maintain or even start living healthy and getting some exercise on your gap year that you will more than likely start eating and living healthier and getting up and doing more without even realising it, so why not take that next step and make it official? Backpacking around the world or taking a gap year are life changing experiences in so many ways, so what’s stopping you adding a healthier lifestyle to that list too? You know you can do it! All it takes is a little willpower and a little knowledge, and the knowledge part I can absolutely help you with, so have a look at the list below to give you just a few ideas on how to exercise when you are on the road.
Go on a hike or a trek.
Wherever you are in the world there are a wide variety of trekking opportunities you can take up, too many to list here. From jungle and desert trekking to hiking up mountains and volcanoes, trekking to hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, taking the three day trek to Macchu Picchu in Peru, night time hikes up Mount Bromo in Indonesia or Mount Sinai in Egypt to see spectacular sunrises or even taking the legendary trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, all of these are just a few of the trekking opportunities backpackers take up every single day and are fantastic ways to exercise your cardiovascular system, increase muscular endurance and burn off body fat without even realising it. Exercise is easy when you are achieving something wonderful and amazing at the same time.
Swim in the ocean.
And look REALLY sexy at the same time!
Those hot, lazy, island hopping days can easily be broken up with a quick dip in the ocean to cool off, and it doesn’t take that much to swim out a little bit and get your heart rate pumping, especially if you are a confident swimmer.
Swimming has a reputation as one of the best all round exercises, and it certainly is deserving of that lofty status. Swimming at the right level, namely so that your heart rate is working at an aerobic level and you are out of breath, not just splashing about or floating on your back and enjoying the sun, holds all the same health benefits as other cardiovascular exercise, plus much more. Apart from running, swimming is perhaps one of the most efficient calorie burners, it increases your general cardiovascular fitness levels and exercises and stretches a lot of different muscles, tendons and joints all at the same time. On top of that, it is an activity that is available to almost anyone of all ages and sizes, and all you need is a swimsuit or a pair of shorts and that beautiful, clear open body of water, and that is never too far away when you are on your gap year!
You do not need to spend a great deal of time swimming to get a lot of benefit from it. Just half an hour a day, two or three days a week, combined with a couple of different types of exercise is enough to get your basic exercise requirements. There isn’t even any complicated programmes to follow, just swim as far, as fast and for as long as you can (within safety limits of course).
Apart from simply going for a swim, you can even take advantage of the fact you can spend as long as you want on that tropical island you’ve just arrived on and spend a week or so obtaining your basic PADI certificate or even just doing some snorkelling, either way you will be getting your exercise quota in the water and you will be having fun at the same time!
Use makeshift weights.
In the absence of any gyms or normal equipment such as dumbbells or machines, you can still quite easily perform your strength training exercises. Making or getting hold of makeshift free weights really isn’t that difficult, all you need are large bottles of water or cans and a carrier bag or something similar.
Depending on the weight you want or need, a single bottle of water held in each hand or a few bottles in a couple of carrier bags are perfect replacements for light dumbbells. All you need then is a working knowledge of the basic exercises for the muscle groups you want to work. Bicep curls, side lateral raises, military raises and the weighted squat are all examples of basic weight exercises you can do.
Free weights are perhaps one of the best ways to build muscle and develop strength. Unlike isolation exercises that are practiced with machines for example, free weights not only train specific muscles, but often the supporting tendons, muscles and joints too, and often more than one muscle group can be trained at the same time, such as in compound exercises. This means that in general, our entire bodies will grow stronger and more healthy, be much more realistically functional, and more able to cope with the demands of sport or general activity than it would be if we only ever trained our biceps with a machine for example.
Don’t assume that strength training with weights is the exact same thing as weightlifting or bodybuilding either, I know, one seems to go hand in hand with the other, but they are not the same. You can tone, train and build your muscle without becoming huge or bodybuilding.
Do some body weight exercises.
Channeling your inner Rocky and doing some free body weight exercises is so easy to do when you are travelling. All you need is a bit of space and your own body, that’s it. You don’t have to drag a tree trunk through the snow followed by some dodgy looking Russians or hang upside down to do sit ups with Burgess Meredith sitting on your feet and an 80s training montage blasting in the background (but if you did that would be awesome!) You just need to learn a few of the basics. Everyone knows the basic exercises which can be done anywhere such as push ups and abdominal crunches, but there are always more advanced exercises such as the pull up or the dip if you find a park swing or a tree branch somewhere.
Body weight exercises are a way of getting moderate strength gains similar to weight training, but without using the weights, and you can even get a moderate level of cardio fitness from them too. You basically use your own body weight and gravity to provide the resistance needed to build and tone muscle.
It is important to remember that when we are talking about strength training in this way we aren’t just talking about building huge muscles and body building, we are just talking about making your muscles work to the best of their ability. Everyone, both men and women, need to do some form of strength training as part of a holistic training regime and it can be used to tone and tighten your body as well as build muscle. So for all of you out there who may not want to build muscles like the Terminator, don’t assume this type of training is not for you.
Exercises such as push ups and pull ups can help tone or build muscle in your arms, chest, shoulders and back, but there are also a range of abdominal and core exercises for your lower back, side obliques and frontal abdominal muscles and exercises such as squats and lunges for your thighs and backside, to name just a few. The best thing to do is to head to a gym before you leave (or find one on your travels, other countries have them too you know), and learn just a few of the basic techniques so that you can then do them at any time, anywhere while you are travelling. So whether you want to simply tone up to look good in your swimsuit or build biceps that Arnie himself would be proud of, this type of exercise is for you. The only variable is the type of exercise and the reps and intensity.
For some body weight exercises, a basic level of strength and flexibility is required to perform at a basic level. Those unused to exercise or are overweight may find it difficult to perform many pull ups or some of the more advanced abdominal exercises for example, but that basic level can be achieved with a mixture of weight training and aerobic exercise and then the gains you will get from body weight training will increase exponentially. All it takes is discipline and time.
Go for a run.
We all know the reasons we use for not going for a jog or a run at home, it’s cold, it’s raining – again – the scenery is nothing but concrete and tarmac, those hoodie wearing teenagers are looking a bit shifty and besides that reality TV programme is about to start on the TV. Well none of these matter when you are backpacking the world. You can go jogging on the beach at sunrise in the glorious sunshine, go for a run up to the top of a hill surrounded by spectacular scenery or around lake filled parks that put anything we have at home to shame. You have the weather, you have the scenery, what you don’t have any more is the excuses, so get out there and go for a run!
Current guidelines state that you need to do at least 2 and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week. That is just half an hour a day, 5 days a week. It isn’t much time to give up when you weigh it up against what you will gain from doing so. Clinical evidence suggests that it is the intensity of exercise that is essential in gaining health benefits and reducing the effects of metabolic syndrome such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high body fat levels and so on. So whilst moderate levels of cardio exercise are good if you are unfit, have never exercised before, or are obese or suffer some other medical condition and need to build up a level of fitness, to really get the health and fitness benefits of aerobic or cardio exercise, you need to kick it up a notch and exercise at a vigorous intensity. Basically this involves a range of activities that get you sweating and out of breath to the point where you can’t complete a sentence whilst engaged in it. More technically, this involves getting your heart rate up to 75 – 80% of its maximum.
Take a martial arts class.
From Muay Thai in Thailand to Brazilian Ju Jitsu in – well, Brazil, the world is full of courses and classes you can take to get a good workout and learn a new skill set at the same time. The beauty of taking a gap year or backpacking -apart from the obvious fact that you can learn these arts in their spiritual and literal home – is that you have the time to devote to whatever particular art you are drawn to and you can simply take a single class to try something new and get a workout or you can devote weeks or months to learning a new art.
I have trained in Martial Arts most of my life, since I was a kid in fact. The Japanese arts of Karate and Judo in particular, and I have been lucky and privileged enough to continue my studies in the spiritual home of those arts, but I have also taken lessons in a variety of other styles across the world too out of both a desire to learn and grow and also a physical need to train. I’ve probably had my bell rung in more countries than anyone else I know!
But you don’t have to have studied any martial art beforehand to take a class when you are travelling. You really don’t have to have any knowledge or experience of them to start off with. All it takes is finding a local class or gym in the town or city you find yourself in, which really isn’t as difficult as it sounds with a bit of research, then just turn up, pay your money and train. It’s as easy as that. Don’t worry about being a beginner or never having done anything like it before, most decent classes will accommodate the fact you are a beginner.
There are a wide variety of different martial arts classes available, Karate, Judo, Ju Jitsu, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Capoeira, fencing and many more. These are not like most of the other classes you will find in the gym, the various martial arts are complete disciplines in and of themselves. Whilst the health and fitness benefits of martial arts are well known and documented, they also offer a lot more than that too. They are complete combat systems with a range of discipline and skill and mental, physical and spiritual development.
Taking a class in martial arts can take more commitment than the average fitness class in terms of time and dedication, don’t get me wrong if you just want to take up a few classes to exercise and maybe learn a few things then that is absolutely fine too, but if you choose to take it to the next level then training in the martial arts can give you much more than just improved health and fitness, it can also give you physical and mental skill and discipline as well as teaching you a form of self defence and even become a way of life.
Join a Yoga retreat.
If you find yourself in India or Bali or somewhere similar, then you will find it hard not to find an Ashram or a retreat that teaches Yoga. In fact many backpackers make a point of heading to a particular country with the aim of learning or practicing this art.
Yoga is a fantastic example of a low impact stretching exercise and is something that you can do at anywhere and anytime. Stretching utilises specific movements and poses to stretch the muscles elasticity, develop your slow twitch muscle fibres and increase muscle tone, align the skeleton, increase flexibility and range of motion and improve balance.
There have been a lot of clinical and scientific studies done on the health benefits of yoga, and whilst there have been varying results as to the extent of the benefit, the general consensus is that yoga is an excellent and safe form of low impact exercise. The physical benefits of yoga are generally quite obvious, improved flexibility, balance and posture, improved muscle tone and less risk of injury to say the least, but there has also been evidence to suggest that yoga can also be beneficial to arthritis, high blood pressure, back pain, depression and stress too.
I hope this list has given you some motivation and inspiration, and shown you just how easy it is to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle when you are travelling the world. The list isn’t exhaustive of course, there are dozens of other ways to keep fit. If any of you have your own ways of exercising on your travels or you have just found some inspiration in these words, then please feel free to let me know in the comments section below.