10 Tips for Staying Active on Vacation

  •   July 2, 2015
  •  Leanne Loranger, PT

With so many of us struggling to meet Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines1 already, upsetting a routine by going on a vacation can make a bad situation that much worse! But there’s good reason to be active.

By now you likely know the benefits of physical activity include:

  • decreased risk of all causes of death3
  • decreased risk of heart disease3
  • decreased depression symptoms8
  • smaller likelihood of developing diabetes and better management of diabetes if you have it3
  • decreased risk of some cancers3 and improved quality of life for cancer survivors4
  • improved management of many chronic conditions5,6

Of course you only achieve these benefits one way: by Creating a Physical Activity Habit. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to establishing that habit,9 so if you already have one established, why not keep the momentum going during your vacation?

In fact, losing that momentum could mean a rapid decrease in your exercise tolerance. What’s more, you don’t need to completely stop exercising to see these changes. Detraining occurs following both short periods of cutting out exercise and marked decreases in your usual physical activity level.

Some studies show that among endurance athletes, changes to the body’s ability to use oxygen effectively (called VO2 max), resting heart rate, and endurance performance begin to decline shortly after a decrease in training intensity. For highly trained athletes, these changes begin in as little as two weeks. Studies have shown similar changes in previously sedentary people who recently completed a training program and then ceased training. For recently trained individuals, some studies indicate that any VO2 gains made were completely lost after only four weeks of inactivity.10

Keeping children active
The physical activity habits that kids develop when they are young carry over to adulthood. Parents, by helping your kids stay active over summer vacation, you are setting them up for life! So while you may not want to hit the gym while on vacation, maintaining your physical activity level while on holiday is a worthwhile investment in you and your family’s long term health.

Statistics Canada says walking, gardening, jogging, swimming and cycling are among the most popular physical activities for Canadians, which means that you may already engage in these activities when at home.2 What’s more, fitting a walk or a bike ride into a nice summer day isn’t all that hard to do. The challenge is deciding to do these activities when on vacation or building your environment so that you have to.

I asked Physiotherapy Alberta staff and Council for tips on how they stay active during vacation; here are our top 10 tips:

  1. “When I travel to large cities I never rent a car. I use mass transit or walk everywhere I go.”
  2. “I look for hotels with a swimming pool. My kids are guaranteed to want to check out the pool so I bring my swimsuit too and join in the fun.”
  3. “Plan an active vacation. My best vacation ever was a cycling tour of Nova Scotia: 10 days on a bike looking at the scenery!”
  4. “Choose your vacation companions wisely. If I want an active vacation, I plan my travels with active friends.”
  5. “Find active ways to sightsee your destination. Look for biking or walking tours or rent a canoe to tour a harbor front.”
  6. “Take your fitness gear with you. If you don’t have your swimsuit or runners you’re guaranteed to not be active. Items like skipping rope or resistance bands are light and easily packed in luggage.”
  7. “When planning your itinerary, schedule time for fitness and physical activity. If you don’t, you’ll likely use the 'I don’t have any time' excuse.”
  8. “Pick a hotel with a fitness facility. Chances are you’ll have it all to yourself!”
  9. “Get a crumby hotel, that way you’re motivated to get out and see your destination.”
  10. “Ask your fitness or health-care provider for a bodyweight workout or stretching routine that you can do in your hotel room when you wake up and/or before bed.”

Need inspiration on where to go and what to do to enjoy an active vacation? Check out these fantastic slide shows on active vacation destinations:


If you need help to get ready for an active vacation, a physiotherapist can give you tips for starting an exercise program to improve your fitness level and help you to address any aches and pains that are holding you back. Click here to find a physiotherapist.


  1. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines: Your plan to get active every day. 2012. Available at: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_Guidelines_Handbook.pdf.   Accessed on June 10, 2015.
  2. Government of Canada. Physical activity during leisure time, 2011. Available at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2012001/article/11667-eng.htm. Accessed on June 10, 2015.
  3. Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ 2006; 174(6): 801-809. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/. Accessed on June 12, 2015.  
  4. Cheifetz O, Dorsay JP, Hladysh G, MacDermid J, Serediuk F, Woodhouse LJ. CanWell: Meeting the psychosocial and exercise needs of cancer survivors by translating evidence into practice. Psycho-Oncology 2014; 23:204-215.
  5. Latimer-Cheung, A.E.; Pilutti, L.A.;  Hicks, A.L.; Ginis, K.A.M;Fenuta, A.M.; MacKibbon, K.A.;  Motl, R.W (2013). Effects of exercise training on fitness, mobility, fatigue, and health-related quality of life among adults with Multiple Sclerosis: A systematic review to inform guideline development. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; 2013; 94:1800-28.
  6. Goodwin LS, Lan L. Evaluation and delivery of ambulatory rehabilitation for people with Parkinson’s disease. Reviews in clinical Gerontology 2014; 24:122-138.
  7. Janssen I, LeBlanc AG. Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010; 7: 40 Available at: http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/7/1/40. Accessed on June 12, 2015.  
  8. Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, Lawlor DA, Rimer J, Waugh FR, McMurdo M, Mead GE. Exercise for depression. The Cochrane Library 2013; 9: 1-125.  Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6/pdf/standard. Accessed on June 12, 2015.
  9. Aarts H, Paulussen T, Schaalma H. Physical exercise habit: On the conceptualization and formation of habitual health behaviours. Health Education Research 1997; 12(3): 363-374. Available at: http://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/3/363.full.pdf+html. Accessed on June 12, 2015  
  10. Mujika I, Padilla S. Cardiorespiratory and metabolic characteristics of detraining in humans. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2001;33(3): 413-421. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11252068