With Rheumatoid Arthritis, we’re often reminded how important it is to be active. Travel does not have to be a time to break active habits. Despite what you may think (and what I find myself thinking as well), you don’t need a hotel gym to stay active while traveling. I recently learned this while traveling through Europe with my wife, Kendall, who’s the kind of person to go out of her way to take stairs over an elevator.
You see where this is going.
At any rate, here are some ways to achieve physical fitness with no gym, and just your wanderlust.
Walk wherever possible
I start with this because it was the hardest for me to cosign. With efficient public transit in many cities, not to mention Uber becoming global, it can be hard to justify walking anywhere. And apps like Yelp eliminate the need to mosey to find a place to stop to eat. Luckily, with the rise of Fitbits, and counting our steps, there does seem to be a growing appreciation for getting somewhere by foot.
For a month in Europe, just about everywhere within two miles, I walked, and I truly came to appreciate this. For one reason, it was mostly a low-impact, low-stress activity for my joints, despite occasional sweatiness and soreness on our more active days. More importantly, however, was the fact that walking enabled me to experience the city more authentically. I was drawn to restaurants by the smells and not by 5 stars, entranced by the bells of cathedrals as opposed to Top 40 hits in a taxi, and left in wonderment by the places I otherwise never would have seen.
Take the stairs when possible. This is a great way to burn a few extra calories without having to go out of your way. The elevator or escalator can be enticing, but my wife makes a point to take stairs, even up to our hotel rooms on fifth and sixth floors. Initially I was repulsed by the idea, but once I committed to it, it wasn’t painful, and certainly served as exercise.
Don’t dread carrying the backpack. I was the designated ‘stuff’ carrier as we traversed Europe. Water bottles, books, laptop, snacks, whatever we took on our day trips went into a backpack that I carried. Those 10 extra pounds were a nice added workout.
Most cities have places that rent bikes by the hour, or day. Bike tours are also widely available. Like walking, biking is a low-impact exercise that enables you to experience more of a city than the specific pre-planned destinations of your itinerary. We saw the art and majesty of Paris, the vineyards of Tuscany, canals of Amsterdam, the quaint stone towns of Belgium, all via bicycle.
Be alert, though. Traffic can move fast and locals buzz through the streets because they know them like the back of their hand. Also, in some big cities, the bike lane is also the bus lane, which can be intimidating. (Full disclosure: In Paris I was in a large bike group with an older woman who’d had too much wine, and drove herself directly into a fire hydrant). Biking is a great idea, just as long as you take safety seriously.
Many vacation destinations are sought after because they are near water — lakes, tropical beaches, or both — and are naturally beautiful, so we love to get in and cool off. Of course, wading in these waters is a no-brainer, but who says you can’t get a little more exercise out of the water on your vacations? Even 10 or 15 minutes of swimming up and down the coast, or treading water, is a great way to get the blood pumping and the joints moving with very little impact or stress on the body.
If you stay near water, you likely have the option of renting a kayak. Kayaking is a great way to get some upper body exercise, particularly the back, arm, and shoulder muscles. This activity is also likely to provide great views you otherwise wouldn’t see of the coastline, the island, the sunset, or what have you.
These are just some of the ways you can incorporate exercise into your vacation without having to alter the itinerary or spend too much money. Hoping that even with RA, you can go see the world, and stay active while doing it!
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Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter.