Staying healthy during long road trips

Now that COVID restrictions have been lifted in many places, people are thinking about traveling again. Even despite outrageous fuel costs across the nation, people are planning and making road trips.  It seems like being cooped up in their own homes for two years has made people willing to pay whatever it takes to travel again.

Elise and I recently took a 2000-mile road trip from Mississippi to Montana.  We broke this 30-hour trip up into several days but we still ended up riding or driving for 6-8 hours at a time.  For professional drivers that might not be too much, but for regular folks like me, that’s a long time.

In fact, some studies suggest that spending as little as one day completely sedentary can make you feel a decade older health-wise. These same studies demonstrated that people lose fitness much faster than these gain it back.  Some of the subjects in these sedentary living studies even had to be rehabilitated for 6 months to regain their previous levels of physical fitness after just  a few days of being sedentary.

So, since road tripping is as popular as ever and we can’t really afford to be motionless for that long, here is a list of things we can do to help maintain our gains or at least reduce the consequences of sitting or driving on a long road trip.

  • Break the trip up into however many days you need in order to reduce your seated time to 5 hours or less.  This means you drive for five hours, leaving you with some time to do something physically active.
  • During your five-hour drive each day, take a break ever two hours.  Stop somewhere, walk around and swing your arms for five minutes, then continue your trip.
  • Take a cooler full of food that you know is going to be good for you. It is too easy to eat out or eat gas station junk food two or three times in a day if you are travelling and driving for hours at a time.  Try to restrict your eating out to less than once per week.
  • If you do need to go out to eat, make it a meal to be proud of.  By that I mean, eat something so healthy that you could make your friends feel bad just by bragging about it.  Alternately, pick the most expensive place in town and share a less expensive item or two with your spouse or SO.  That way you’ll probably get smaller portions of better food and you’ll eat less of it if you share.
  • Don’t forget to drink lots of water — not Coke or juice.
  • Limit the coffee and alcohol, especially late in the day.  Both drugs, if taken in the evening, can disrupt sleep, making you feel worse the next day and making you more susceptible to being sedentary tomorrow. 
  • Incidentally, you probably want to limit your exercise in the evenings because it can disrupt sleep as much as coffee or alcohol do.  So get your exercise in the morning and throughout the day, but take it easy for a few hours before bedtime.
  • In addition to taking a break for a few minutes every two hours of driving, try to start every day, driving or not, with some form of exercise. First thing in the morning is prime time to drink coffee and exercise.
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of gyms and spas in hotels where you stay.
  • You could even try posture exercises or breathing exercises (don’t make yourself dizzy while driving) while sitting in the car.

Categories: Travel

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