Establishing any new habit is difficult. It’s particularly challenging to establish new fitness habits – diet, exercise or sleep schedule – because these usually also necessitate drastic changes to existing, entrenched lifestyle habits.
Summer vacations offer a convenient on-ramp for trying out new fitness habits. Often, we have more time during vacations compared to other times in our lives. If we can do something enjoyable daily on vacation, we’re more likely to want to carve out time to continue it once we return home. The key word here is enjoyable. It’s not a good idea, for example, for a non-runner to begin the habit of running five miles every day on vacation. Nor would it be advisable to begin a restrictive diet on vacation.
The following five habit changers don’t require exertion or deprivation. Rather, these simple tasks give one a sense of immediate accomplishment without the downsides of sore muscles from new workouts or hunger from diets. I don’t recommend choosing more than one suggestion. Instead, select one that most appeals to you and fits best into your vacation plans.
Most of us know instinctively that fresh foods are better than processed and eating fruits and vegetables is better than eating pastries and deep fried foods. Unless one has a medically prescribed diet, she doesn’t need to follow a complicated regimen in order to eat more healthfully. Most of us get into trouble because we don’t pay close enough attention to what we’re eating and how much we’re eating.
Keeping a food log forces the logger to pay attention. Studies have consistently shown food loggers eat fewer calories and tend to choose healthier foods compared to those who don’t keep a log. Apps have made this process easier and faster than it’s ever been. See Redbook’s top 21 food tracking apps here for guidance.
Best for: Those who have trouble sticking to strict diets or who eat-on-the-go often would benefit the most from keeping a log. Vacations in familiar places, where local grocers and restaurants are known entities, are most conducive to food logging.
Journaling takes food logging to the next level. With journaling, it’s less important to keep a precise log of food intake and more important to record how one is feeling before and after eating foods. Fitness journaling also has the benefit of incorporating the same data points surrounding exercise. As in, what thoughts and motivations went into choosing to exercise and how one felt physically and emotionally after exercising.
This in-depth reflection helps those journaling better understand why certain diets or exercise techniques haven’t worked in the past and what regimens might be worth trying in the future. See my post on journaling from last summer here for tips on getting started.
Best for: Journaling is most helpful to people who have emotional eating challenges or those who have been unsuccessful adopting a consistent exercise program. Those on a relaxing vacation alone or with only a few people are most likely to have the time and space to journal daily.
Many modern ills, such as obesity, insomnia or even lifestyle diseases, can be directly or indirectly linked to stress. Mindful breathing and meditation may be necessary for those who want to eat more healthfully, get more sleep or begin to exercise but who need to quiet the outside noise and de-stress before they can embark on those quests.
Many have the misconception that meditation requires long periods of mental focus. But meditation can be compared to learning to read. A child who has mastered reading “Goodnight Moon” has learned the foundations of reading and, eventually, he’ll be able to read a novel for 30 minutes or more at a time.
For those who are new to meditation, the “Goodnight Moon” point is practicing mindful breathing for two minutes or less. Eventually a person works her way up to full meditation from there, if she desires. But, stress relieving benefits can be realized with regular mindful breathing even if the practice never progresses to full meditation. You can see my post here on mindful breathing which also contains a link to establishing a meditation practice.
Best for: People who are under a great deal of stress benefit from just a few minutes of mindful breathing daily. This will be most easily accomplished by those who are comfortable with alone time and have plenty of it available on vacation.
Many who feel like they can’t make the time for dedicated workouts don’t realize how many opportunities for productive movement they have each day. A pedometer, when worn daily, becomes a constant reminder to seize on those opportunities. Studies have proven that people wearing pedometers do, indeed, move more than those who don’t.
Best for: People who sit a lot during a work day, are competitive in nature or have an active vacation planned would be good candidates for a pedometer.
In addition to the reality that many Americans eat too much and move too little, we also don’t sleep enough. And, actually, all three are interconnected. If one is failing at one of the three, she will find it more difficult to achieve the other two.
Luckily, the converse is also true. So, if one can establish good sleep habits over vacation and continue those when he returns home, he’ll likely have an easier time taking control of his diet and getting more exercise. Read my post here for tips on finding your sleep time sweet spot.
Best for: Anyone who isn’t on a pre-planned, hyper-scheduled vacation would benefit from and can practice establishing a sleep schedule on vacation.
Start one of these simple habits over your next vacation and reap the fitness rewards when you return home.