New Year’s resolutions for fitness can be realized even while traveling.
By Bert Henderson, F385218
“Exercise is not fun.” “There isn’t time when we’re on the road.” “I can’t exercise in an RV.” I’ve heard these quotes and similar comments from many other RVers we’ve met during our road trips. Motorhome owners offer a variety of reasons (excuses?) for not doing as much physical exercise as they should on the road.
Medical experts tell us to exercise more. They say physical activity reduces stress by increasing endorphins that also help with pain management. Regular exercise also improves joint movements to reduce the effects of arthritis; helps to lower cholesterol; improves blood pressure and heart function; helps to regulate blood sugar; and contributes to a longer, happier, and healthier life. If those claims have spurred you on to make a New Year’s resolution to exercise more often this year, you are not alone. Here’s how I manage to keep fit while traveling.
How To Start
When I retired, I did not want to incur the wrath of “Arthur-itis” or any other affliction of old age. A few months after I stopped working and before I began to figure out what exercises I should do, I had my doctor give me a complete physical exam and provide input about a formal exercise plan. His advice: “For about the first three weeks you should work out with a qualified personal trainer.” When I asked why, he said, “A qualified personal trainer will not allow you to hurt yourself. The problem as we age is that the mind thinks you are 18, but your body knows that you’re 65.”
So, I sought out a qualified personal trainer. On my first day in the gym with Michele Sehr DiDomenico, an advanced registered personal trainer, she tested my heart rate, stamina, blood pressure, body fat, and muscle strength. She worked with me for my first three weeks, guiding me in the proper way to use exercise machines and free weights, and how to correctly breathe and stretch. She developed a workout routine for me that morphed into a beginner’s workout plan I first thought was a little weak. But, after hearing of other retiree friends who did not use a trainer as they began their gym regime and suffered major injuries, I was happy to start slow and with very light weights. The light weights allowed my body to become conditioned to the concentrated exercise that was to come later. The money I spent to have Michele’s input and advice was less than the bill for rehabilitation of damaged muscles or for surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, which was experienced by two acquaintances of mine who started their workout program without a trainer. (These same people are now using the services of a qualified personal trainer.)
Staying On Schedule
After the three-week startup, I worked out on my own for about six weeks using Michele’s workout plan. After that, I scheduled more time with Michele to confirm that I was still doing my exercises correctly and to get her input about increasing the size of weights, repetitions, or sets, and about adding exercises. “Repetitions” are the number of times you do an exercise, and “sets” are the groups of repetitions. So, if you repeat one exercise eight times and stop, that represents one set. If you wait for one minute to allow your body to recuperate and then do the exercise again eight times, that counts as another set. Many combinations of sets, repetitions, and weights can be used to change up your workout routine and avoid boredom. I have continued to work with Michele one week out of every six weeks to improve muscle strength and cardiovascular stamina, and to gather new ideas.
On The Road
After all this, my wife and I participated in a 43-day Lewis and Clark motorhome caravan tour. During that trip, we did not have much free time for exercise. However, before our departure, Michele gave me an exercise routine that I could do in our motorhome to stay reasonably fit. I used simple things such as chairs from the dining area for “dips,” and I did push-ups and sit-ups on the floor of our motorhome. I used a gallon of water as a weight for working out (a gallon jug full of water weighs approximately 8 pounds). Large air-filled exercise balls can be used in a motorhome for balancing exercises. Or, you can use the steps into your RV or even jump rope to get a great aerobic workout. Small towels can be used for arm exercises. Many good exercises can be done while traveling — stretching exercises, running in place, riding a bicycle, and the gold standard: walking. They fit into any workout routine at any destination. Lack of a gym or equipment need not keep you from exercising.
We do carry a small set of lightweight dumbbells that my wife uses for her arm exercises. I also use the dumbbells to maintain my muscle conditioning while doing squats, lunges, and arm curls. We store them in an exterior compartment when we travel.
New video games also can provide a fun and useful workout. Most newer TVs have a connection in the front that allows you to plug in an external video connection. That’s where the Wii Fit plugs in. The Wii game responds to your movements as you play sports of your choice, including tennis, bowling, snowboarding, skiing, golf, and more. Or, you can practice balancing, run an obstacle course, roll a bubble down a river, perform yoga or strength exercises, or do a workout. The Wii also offers tips about healthful cooking and dining.
Fitting A Workout Into Your Day
Any way you can fit exercise into your travel schedule is beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends that you try to schedule at least 30 minutes three days a week. Spend 30 minutes in the morning exercising before you take your daily shower. Or, walk a set of stairs instead of using an elevator or escalator during your day. When you stop along the way for lunch or to stretch your legs, walk the distance of the parking lot three or four times.
If a scheduled workout day goes by and you just can’t find the time, don’t beat yourself up and say, “I quit because there is no time!” Just begin your workout program during your next available time slot. Remember, working out should be fun and enjoyable. That goes a long way in developing a positive habit.
Maintaining Your Body
You wouldn’t travel very far in your motorhome with little or no fuel in the tank. When you begin to work out, consider your body’s tank and make sure it has sufficient fuel to take you through your routine. That includes a balanced diet, multivitamins, and, possibly, supplements. Be sure to have water handy before, during, and after your session.
If your workout lasts less than an hour and is not strenuous, drink only water. If you decide to use a sports drink for a strenuous workout, consider diluting it with 50 percent water. Before you get carried away with buying sports drinks and supplements, consult your personal physician, trainer, and/or a sports nutritionist to find out what’s correct for you.
Breathing And Stretching
Motorhome engines need air to operate regularly and to burn fuel properly. The human body is no different. Michele spent a lot of time with me making sure I breathed during my repetitions and sets. “Proper breathing during exercise allows the lungs to put oxygen into the blood system for transport to the muscles,” Michele told me. “The oxygen removes the chemicals left in your muscles as a result of their exertion during exercise. As you do your workouts, develop the habit of breathing in during the relaxed period of your repetition, and exhaling air during physical exertion. You must feel at ease and breathe using the full capacity of the lungs by breathing deeply.”
Work with your trainer to develop proper breathing habits during your workout. Getting the proper flow of air into your lungs allows your muscles to recover quickly during your exercise session.
Michele also made sure stretching was an integral part of my workout. “You need to stretch your body to aid blood circulation. Stretching loosens the muscles and reduces the attack of cramps by lengthening the muscles and loosening the muscle fibers. Stretching also goes a long way to reduce or eliminate stiffness and muscle soreness.” After I started doing the stretching exercises she recommended, the number and intensity of the charley horses I experienced in my legs at night reduced greatly.
So, when you begin to develop an exercise program, do whatever you have to do to keep your body in reasonable condition while you travel. Keep your exercise plan simple and uncomplicated. Stretch daily and practice breathing during any physical exertion. That kind of conditioning goes a long way toward helping you to stay healthy and happy so you can enjoy the RV lifestyle for a very long time.