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Do This One Thing to Save Your Sanity and Health While Traveling

I love traveling, but I hate how sitting for hours in transit, enduring restless hotel nights, and overindulging on the local cuisine makes me feel. Midway through the trip, I can get tired and cranky—unless I do this one simple thing: work out while traveling.  No matter how little sleep I get, waking up an hour earlier to start my morning with a run always re-energizes me for the rest of the day, and puts me in a better mood.

It’s not just me who feels the benefits of a good workout while traveling—it’s backed by science.

Feeling achy and tight after getting off a plane? Debra Atkinson, a certified coach with a B.S. and M.S in Exercise Science and Exercise and Sports Psychology, explains: “Going for a run and workout can rebalance those muscles that get too tight, and too lose during travel.”

I generally wind up walking for miles when I travel, but long walks don’t offer the same heart rate-raising benefits that a more intense workout does. Atkinson clarifies: “Walking around is OK, but doesn’t offset the tight/lose muscles (hip flexors, rounded upper back, the leg crossing we do more of during extended travel days).”

I opt to get my travel workouts in the morning. From a practical standpoint, I find it’s easier to get it out of the way early—that way you’re not making excuses to skip it when you’re tired after a long day, or have to adjust your evening plans to fit in a workout in a shower. Mornings are also when I normally work out at home, and as Atkinson says, “For someone who regularly exercises, getting back on the regular schedule in a new time zone is like a circadian rhythm cue. If you exercise at home in the morning, then it’s a signal to start your day in a new time zone too.”

If you can take your workout outside, even better. Atkinson says, if you “land during the day and to you it feels like night, getting exercise outdoors so you’re exposed to sunlight in addition to movement will help increase your sleep. Even 10 minutes of exercise enhances self-reports of sleep quality by 33 percent.  The exposure to sunlight supports your sleep-regulating hormone melatonin production at night. Getting outdoors if possible for the workout can also help reset the biological clock and circadian rhythm so you’ll not just sleep better, but make healthier choices eating. Every morning in a new time zone, get sunlight first thing in the morning to help the time zone change.”

Next time you travel, try setting your alarm a half hour early and going for a quick run outside and see how you feel. It just might save your traveling sanity and health.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel always tries to work out while traveling. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

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