There is an old (and hopefully becoming obsolete) idea that getting your body “vacation ready” means you need to exercise ahead of time to get your body looking "fit" so you can enjoy your vacation. In this episode, Katy flips this idea on its head and invites you to take a different approach. An approach that involves getting your body “vacation ready” by making sure it is moving well enough to enjoy the things you want to do on your vacation.
(time codes are approximate)
00:07:40 - Welcome Isabel (Jump to section)
00:12:00 - How Long Does It Take? (Jump to section)
00:18:00 - Breaking it Down (Jump to section)
00:20:45 - Footwear and Walking for Everyday Life (Jump to section)
00:23:35 - The Travel Day and Movement (Jump to section)
00:29:35 - Practical Trips to Prep for Travel (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I'm Katy Bowman, Biomechanist, author, and traveler. All bodies are welcome here. Let's get moving.
Hey, friends, today we are talking about vacations and movement. And of course, there are people that schedule vacation days year-round, but the most popular time of year for vacations is June through August - a time that we are quickly approaching right now at the time that I'm recording this.
So vacations often involve a lot of travel, which can require a series of body positions or lows to your body that your body just isn't used to. And it's not just the travel. What you're doing on vacation can also involve either different types of movements than you're used to, or just a greater volume of movement than your body is used to. So even if to you vacation means more resting than you normally get, going to new places just ends up moving you more or moving you differently than you were prepared to move simply because of the novel environment. So there is this old and hopefully becoming obsolete idea of getting your body vacation ready. I'm putting my fingers in air quotes, "vacation ready". That's rooted in the idea that one needs to exercise ahead of time to get their body looking a certain way so that they can enjoy their vacation. And I would like to flip this idea on its head with this episode and take a different approach. What if we thought of getting a body vacation ready and making sure it was moving well enough to enjoy the things we wanted to do on our vacation? So this is one example of what I'm trying to spell out here. There are these multi-day walking or trekking tours that you can sign up for. They happen all over the world. This is a type of vacation where people know they're signing up to walk many miles per day. They know it. They paid for it. And still, you know what often happens? People fatigue or became injured early on in their trip and they couldn't finish it. And I'm not talking about huge injuries like they slid down a mountain. I'm talking about the small stuff that is literally so small, like a blister or the outside of your ankle joint that freezes and you can't take another step or an ache deep in your left knee. Every step that you take downhill ends up taking out your entire body, right? Something so small can keep your entire body from doing this thing that you wanted to do. And you all know by now that I'm a long distance walker, and I can tell you that nothing undoes your entire body like a quarter inch of pain somewhere on a single foot. And I'm so serious. It's real. Your feet are in charge.
Well, actually, the bowels are the ultimate master, but the vice president are the feet. Anyway, so in this example, these hiking and walking, trekking vacations, they also have cycling vacations that are like this as well. You'll recall that the people who sign up for this, they already know they're going to move all day. They knew they could walk and maybe they even exercise regularly. But what they didn't expect was that walking or doing cardio an hour every day or getting 15,000 steps a day on their pedometer, they didn't expect that to be quite different from walking, say, 5 or 7 or 10 miles every day or being on their feet multiple hours a day, day after day after day. Right? Your vacations, often these treks or our vacations can be like four days, five days, six days, seven days. They didn't expect that walking in their neighborhood would be a lot different mechanically than walking on a rambling path through the countryside. So it mechanically is another way to say uses different body parts or uses the same body parts but differently. Anyway, the people signing up for these tours, many times they didn't know their current body readiness wasn't enough for the activity that they had planned on doing.
So we have had walking tour companies reach out to Nutritious Movement specifically to create videos to help prepare their customers for what they need to do with their bodies beforehand. Because it is very disappointing to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, only to have it not turn out the way you wanted it to. The companies want people to have a good time and be successful and really it's just good business, in my opinion, to communicate clearly what's expected or essential body-wise, right? Because I think that there's these ideas that we have and then there's the reality of what the thing actually entails. So anyway, tour companies know that people plan and invest and show up excitedly, but their bodies weren't vacation ready because so many of us are inexperienced at movement in all of its forms - we didn't know we needed to prepare.
So that's why I am here - to let you know Movement Matters . And also, for those of you listening to help you get your body vacation ready. And just a little note on the idea of vacation-ready overall. I'm not implying that you can't enjoy life without having physical experiences. What I'm talking about here is that when you can't access the physical experience that you wanted to or were planning to, this can be frustrating and can often be mitigated through, you guessed it, movement. All right. So.
There are also vacations that aren't explicit movement-y vacations. So if you're going backpacking or on a walking or a cycling tour, duh, you know, to expect movement even if you didn't know exactly how much movement it involved. But there are also trips to places where moving more just happens naturally. Of course, when you're touring, there's often more standing, right? Like there's just waiting in line for travel. There's also tourist attractions, museums - a lot of tours are done on foot. You're also doing less of your mundane sitting down working stuff, perhaps, which means you're just on your feet way more than normal just because you are not working. So when I was thinking of these regular trips that weren't movement-y but contained more movement than one's typical day-to-day, it reminded me of a story a friend told me when we were on a walk a few years ago. I wanted to bring her onto the show.
ISABEL: Thank you for having me.
KATY: Of course. So you and I took a walk years ago. You we telling about this vacation that you took with your family. I feel like this story... I shared with you how I think the story went, but you tell me how it actually went.
ISABEL: Yes, absolutely. So again, back to 2016, I found you. And the reason why that happened was because I was doing a lot of research into conditions that I had been diagnosed with, and I started implementing a lot of things. So a chiropractor in California had significant improvement for many symptoms and then in 2018 - early 2018 - I was feeling pretty good about how things were going. And the family, the extended family went on a vacation to Spain and we were in a place where everything was walkable. And I was finding myself really hurting and swelling and having a lot of issues walking just from the house to a cafe, which was maybe 1 or 2km away. And then one day we went on a, you know one of those cable carts...
ISABEL: ...up to a mountain. And the point where they left us at the mountain, you still had to climb a little bit in order to get to the top and have a wonderful view from the top of the mountain. And I've really tried to make that climb, and I just couldn't. And even though if you see the pictures of that moment, I looked pretty happy inside, I was really disappointed because, you know, I had been working so hard for the past couple of years to implement things, and I still wasn't at the point where I wanted to have the enjoyment of my life that I wanted to have. So when I came back from vacation, I decided this is a time to put everything that I have learned into practice and also be kinder to myself. You know, see where it goes. Understand that it takes time. It takes practice, It takes effort. So that's when I started just consistently walking first in my neighborhood. And at first, the post-exertion malaise kept me from adding distance or adding time as fast as I wanted to go. But I didn't give up. I continued to do that. And, you know, within six months' time I was walking a fair distance. And then from there, I started to finally be able to enjoy going on hikes with my family. My husband has always been an avid hiker and my kids grew up going on hikes and spending a lot of time in the woods. And as much as I tried, you know, I would go in, be in pain, be super fatigued, and just give up and not go again. But this time I started to tell everybody, "Okay, I may not be able to go on the entire hike with you. But if I need to stop midway, sit down, eat a snack, and wait for you guys to come back, that's completely fine with me." On many of those hikes, my husband would stop and drop, and rub the sides of my legs in order to ease the pain for me to be able to continue to go. And everybody would take as many necessary stops as I needed to take. And within two years, which seems like a super long time for a lot of people - but for someone who came from the position that I came from, I think it's actually quite fast - I was able to enjoy many hikes, climb a 4000 footer and just, you know, enjoy the things that I like to do in life with my family, with my friends. And again, by the time I met you in 2019, you know, we did a six-mile walk together and it didn't feel like much. So it was it was just that.
KATY: Yeah, that's a nice - I do think that probably one of the number one questions I get is "How long will it take?" And it's like, well, what is IT? You know? How long until I'm better? How long until I can do everything? And in which case, you know, it's like narrow it down. Pick smaller steps. Two years feels like a long time, but our lives are long.
KATY: And so just to know to get started at today, it's in some capacity is the fastest way for something to get better like is just to be able to start.
ISABEL: Yeah one of my new motives are you know it may take a long time, but time is going to happen. It's going to pass anyways.
KATY: That's right.
KATY: Were you dealing with chronic pain? I mean, I know you said you started with foot issues. Is it dealing with a specific foot injury or just chronic leg issues? You were saying your legs were bothering you. How would you define where you were starting from? Just for listeners who are, you know, listeners who could go, "Oh, that's me."
ISABEL: Yeah. So I have hypermobile EDS, which is a connective tissue disorder. I also have Chronic fatigue syndrome and Chiari Malformation, among other things. So, a series of conditions that cause chronic pain and chronic fatigue. And both were an issue in trying to do what I wanted to do. And to be completely honest, things also ebb and flow. It's not ... I'm not always in a place where I can just get up and do a six-mile walk, even if I have been walking previously.
ISABEL: There are a lot of fluctuations in there. But what I have learned is that consistency through failure is the key. And failure may be the wrong word. Consistency through setbacks. So for someone who is completely healthy, let's say, you know, you may start a routine, get to a place where you want to be, and all of a sudden you get a new job or you have a newborn and you know, you have a series of things that set you back. As long as you pick up and start at the beginning even if you have to, you can always get back there. And for people like me who have chronic conditions and fatigue, it's really important to listen to your body and be kind to yourself, and also test the waters. Because different things work at different times for different people. So, you know, if you know that a mile walk is gonna send you into post-exertion malaise, scale that down to a two-minute walk, a three-minute walk and see if building from there is even possible. But do what you can with whatever it is that you have at the moment, yeah.
KATY: The fact of the matter is, I don't think people are used to the amount of movement that can show up when you are in a place and in a situation that's radically different than your day-to-day. So if people take trips and they haven't prepared, there's a lot of, I don't know, articles about getting your body ready for vacation. And those tend to be more about the aesthetics of a body, right? I've never seen anything written about making sure your body can handle the vacation you're about to go on so that you can extract the experiences from it that you'd like. And that doesn't mean that all bodies can do everything, but it's this idea of before you go to do maybe what you did afterward, right after you were on more hills or more experiences where your body wasn't able to do what you would like it to do. Thinking about a training program beforehand, if that makes sense.
ISABEL: Yes, absolutely. At that time I wasn't living in a place where I had cafes within walking distance or, you know, restaurants. So that wasn't even on my radar. And a lot of other countries are set up in a way that's completely different from what we have in the United States. Now when I walk in a place I'm constantly scanning for, if it is a walkable space. Just yesterday I went to drop off my husband's car at the mechanic. That is not ... it's a half an hour walk and I decided to walk back to the house. And I'm constantly scanning, "Oh, this is not really a sidewalk I gotta cross here." It's like we're designed to put movement into our daily lives while other countries are. So I think it's a good idea to research that aspect of where you're going if you're going somewhere. But even, you know, when we talk about getting ready for summer in here, that's also another aspect where people are talking about the aesthetics of, you know …
KATY: The aesthetics of movement.
ISABEL: ... getting ready for summer. Yes. And for me, it's like I need to feel good and function well. At this point, I could care less what that looks like or what I look like for that matter. So it's really important to think about what you want to do maybe this summer in terms of the things that you want to enjoy. So if you want to spend a longer time at the beach, maybe what are those things? You have some heat intolerance that you might want to work on. Do you want to walk the beach while you're there instead of laying down the entire time? So what do you need to do to get ready for that so that you can truly enjoy every aspect of what it is that you intend to do because you have the function in order to do that?
KATY: Yeah. To break down, I mean, I know it's not that sexy of a thing, but to break down your vacation into the physical activities that it requires. And I don't mean ziplining. I mean cobblestone streets. When you leave, if you do take a trip outside of the United States or really even outside of very urban areas, what you're walking on might be what you are not expecting, right? Like the fact that you are walking on things that are lumpy and bumpy. And so to take a trip to a place and to be surprised at the fact that the walking type that it requires is something you're completely unpracticed in can be a bummer. You know, it can be a bit of a bummer. I just happened to see where I am right now in Central America, someone take a pretty bad fall. Sidewalks aren't all flat and level and always maintained in exactly the same way. And so there's injury, but more importantly, it's just that you feel the need to sit out because you didn't know. So look into the distances. Look into footwear that works for you. I would highly recommend not buying brand-new shoes.
ISABEL: I was going to say that. Yes. Yeah.
KATY: Yeah. Do not buy brand-new vacation shoes and try them out on your vacation. You want to bring your old faithfuls. You know, bring the ones that you love and that work for you. Bring ones that attach well to your feet. And that's just one way to look at it. The other way is to look at terrain, incline, and just realize when we're on vacation, we have a lot more time for moving around throughout the day. That's what vacations tend to have more than your regular life, where you might be active a little bit of the day, but you're mostly sitting, you know, because everything that you need is right where you are. You might be walking around to sightsee. Take advantage. And so your steps per day, to have such large increases, is where you are more likely to experience fatigue injury. So just think about it ahead of time. And think about getting vacation ready - getting your body vacation ready to have nothing to do with aesthetics, but have to do with being able to extract as much joy and pleasure out of the thing that you want to do. In this case, your trip or your travel, or your time with your family that's in this space that you've never been in before.
ISABEL: Yes, absolutely.
KATY: I went on a trip here in the United States to a city that was very - I knew I'd be doing a ton of walking. So, you know, I've got my cute minimal boot. And I was walking around and I had probably walked 7 or 8 miles over ten hours that day. And I was in a public bathroom and there was a woman there stuffing paper towels around her ankles because of the blisters. And she was like, I love your shoes. And our shoes were almost identical. And I was like, They're almost the same as your shoes. Hers had, you know, they were a conventional shoe. And she said, yes, but they also look comfortable. And so I think it's just that. Just to be aware that all of those pieces that you choose when you pack end up influencing how the vacation feels to your body. So not only how it looks, but how it feels, how it ends up being for you. So footwear is a big one. Footwear and walking are a big ones for travel.
ISABEL: The only other thing I would say is - besides the walking portions and researching how that works in other countries - look at your setup as well and try to insert more movement into your everyday life. So, you know, even getting up from the couch to change the TV instead of using the remote and squatting in your cupboards to grab things from the bottom. Those are all little things that are not necessarily in to people's minds every day because we have so much that is convenient. And convenience has taken the place of movement and a lot of other places are not set up that way. So when you go to an Airbnb in another country, you know, you may find yourself having to squat a lot or reach a lot and then you could injure yourself or experience a lot of discomfort from those things because you're not used to that in your everyday life. So building that in is also important.
KATY: For sure! Many places do things quite differently than folks are used to, so just know that you will be using your body differently and to prepare for it ahead of time. Give yourself some time.
KATY: Okay. Sounds good. Thank you for coming on and talking with us.
ISABEL: Thank you for having me.
KATY: Isabel Ramirez Burnett is AIP certified and a national board-certified health and wellness coach. Her company, Super Sized Wellness, specializes in chronic illness management and focuses on empowering clients with chronic health conditions and those simply feeling suboptimal to live in a state of sustained wellness through well-rounded approaches and real-life skills. You can learn more from her on social media at Supersized Wellness Isa, on Instagram or Super-sized Wellness on Facebook.
All right. Now, let's talk a little bit about the travel day itself. Because who out there has landed somewhere only to tweak their back or neck the day they land? Raise your hand so I can see you all the way in the back. And p.s. - I am raising my own hand, too, because this has happened to me a couple of times when I was young too, like in my 20s. So do you remember the website Priceline, where you could just bid on a ticket whatever you wanted, and if the airline accepted your price, you were locked in, you got that ticket? So, I went to London this way. I mean, this was a long time ago. This was in the 90s, only I didn't know very much about England. And this was also way before the Internet was something you spent most of your day on. So my siblings thought we could take my dad finally to Scotland to meet his roots, as my grandma likes to say still to this day. She says that. And I thought London was London. It's like a single city, so no problem. I'll fly in and I'll be able to transfer and get on my next flight from London to Scotland. It ended up that I had bought a ticket to Gatwick instead of Heathrow, whatever. It just means that there's more than one airport in London. They are not necessarily a tremendous distance, but you need to have multiple hours in between. So I ended up taking this very long bus ride that I had to figure out. I had no money. I had no pounds. Anyway, it was just like this flurry of stress and activity. And I had already been traveling for a very long day and carrying a backpack and ... long story long, I tweaked my neck. I couldn't turn it the entire time I was on that trip. I could not sleep comfortably the entire time I was there. So, I'm just talking to myself. I'm just giving advice to myself right now. So moving on. Pun.
I'm going to read actually a bit of an essay from my new book, Rethink Your Position , because it sums it up so nicely.
Whether by car, plane, train, or foot traveling often involves a lot of hip flexion found in both sitting or hiking. It involves carrying heavier items than usual and often that last-minute flurry of added stress. When it comes to my own body, putting these all together sets the stage for old injuries in my lower back and shoulder to flare up. Back spasms and the like can wreck your plans. So here's some advice from this biomechanist/and more importantly, someone who has had to deal with this issue a few times myself. One: prioritize multiple short, (so 3 to 5-minute exercise sessions) every day, a week or two beforehand. And then, two: do a few exercises en route. And three: do these exercises again as soon as you arrive at your destination. You can think of these moves as travel insurance that's free, but you still need to put in place ahead of time. Every time I've had a low back problem on the road, it was because I jumped right into a bend and twist activity. So moving luggage, picking up a kid and once it was dragging a vacuum cleaner without being mindful of the mechanical situation my body had just been through the last few hours. And what I mean by that is like so much sitting. The body needs a transition zone - just a little time to remind it of all the other positions it might have forgotten, it could assume, after repeating a single shape or pattern for an extended period of time.
If I had to pick a single movement to spend time doing once you land, it would be a low lunge on the ground. You're simply adding a big dose of hip flexion and you can pair it with some mindful breathing, maybe even some head hanging, letting the neck relax. The key is to go slow and be mindful. That means pay attention to yourself and the way your parts are feeling every minute or moment that you're on the move. If you can, step out into a quiet room or onto a patio or something similar and give yourself this time. Your future vacationing self will thank you for it. And then also on my website, you can find a free 20-minute low back care for travel exercise video to follow along with. I'll include a link to that video in the show notes.
Okay. So finally yesterday - So timely - I got an email from a friend heading out to a two-week trip that read: "By the way, my body is really tweaked right now. I don't know what to prioritize right now which results in me doing nothing. I would love to get your perspective if you have some time. Not being able to go on my regular walks has me mentally and emotionally worn down." This right here is why I do what I do. I think that there's more of us in this situation than we realize. We are definitely in a place of overwhelm.
So I'm going to answer my friend here, but also answer everyone wondering the same thing. What should I prioritize with a vacation coming up? I've broken down my answer into three groups. Depending on how much time you have before you go on your trip. Or I mean, and this could also just be an issue that arises if you vacation right where you are for some of the reasons I mentioned above. The fact that you're doing things differently. And I think during the pandemic there was a rise in foot pain. I mean, I know there was a rise. But it's the same idea, right? The idea that you're using your body in a much different way. We're not used to thinking about our movement diet as a contributing factor to the way we feel physically, right? Nutritious Movement . We're all about our movement diet. So anyway, if you have two weeks or less until your trip, go find that 20-minute low back care for travel video that I mentioned before. Follow that once or twice a day, every day until you go. It's gentle but thorough. And most importantly, it's focusing on getting the low back hips, and legs moving better. These are areas that a lot of people have issues with on vacation.
All right. If you have 4 to 6 weeks, add at least two walks a day, 15 to 20 minutes. And if you can do three, even better. Get at least two "long for you" walks. And that means walks that are closer to the steps per day that you'll be getting on your trip. Also, you can do that 20-minute low back care video or any other mobilizing routine that hits your toes, ankles, hips, and lower back daily. Right. Also, if you're going to be wearing a backpack and you're not used to moving so much with the load, start wearing it now on your walks so that you can see how things fit, how they rub. You can see where your body might be talking to you so that you're not surprised on your trip. You can now start to address these areas specifically with some gentle movements to bring them online, so to speak. If you have eight weeks or more, my advice is to work on your walk. And this means, as I said before, getting your mileage gradually increased over the eight weeks or more. And you don't have to do all of your walking at once to train for walking longer distances. You can add in 15 or 20 minutes of walking three times a day. You could do it in the morning at lunch or some other break time and again in the evening.
If you already walk once a day, then you can just add two other sessions. I do recommend that you carve out time for a longer walk. And again, it's a longer walk in the way that you define it. But that could be 3 or 5 or 7 miles, depending on how much you already walk. And you want to do this once a week. And I want you to check in with how you feel afterward. Is it afterward or afterwards? Check-in with how you feel afterwards. Check-in with how you feel afterward. I have no idea if it's afterward or afterwards, but I can do calculus real good. All right. Anyway. Are any of your body parts talking with the increased mileage? That's the part - the body part - to focus on with some extra strength and or mobility training. Remember when I said that the walking tour companies reached out to us about creating a program to train stronger walkers? This is where the idea for my Walking Well video program came from. That program is a mash-up of strength and stretching exercises specific to gait as well as self-massage rollouts with TuneUp Fitness's Jill Miller. It is a fabulous video program. If you have eight weeks or more and want to focus on feel better feet, knees, hips, balance, and endurance, that's the program to start now, so you have time to run through it multiple times.
It hits all the body parts that commonly act up with increased mileage, including the low back and neck because walking is upper body movement too And I'm going to reiterate here, vacation is no time to try out new shoes. Break them in ahead of time with lots of walking to make sure they aren't rubbing or that they don't hurt your feet or legs after a lot of steps. And here's one more reminder. Make a list of the movements that make up your vacation. Are there staircases to negotiate? How far are you walking for meals or shopping? What about tours? How long will you need to be on your feet? And this is a common strategy that people with disabilities will automatically go through. I think if you're taking your body and you know that it performs a certain way in your current environment, but when you get into novel environments, you're not really sure. You're thinking through like, what am I going to have to do with my body? You're also having to manage your energy as well. These are real things. I just think that many people don't realize that this principle applies to all of us all of the time. So just take a little bit of time to put a movement lens on what you're going to do and let that process inform getting yourself vacation ready. Vacation ready is more than packing is what I'm trying to say.
And that reminds me, here's one more pro tip. I mean, what is this? This is like tip 72 of this episode. Reuse a plastic water bottle by filling it with water and putting it in the freezer. You can even do a couple of them. When you get home after more time on your feet than you're used to, take that frozen water bottle out, sit down, and roll your bare feet back and forth over the frozen water bottle. It's a massage. It's also cooling to help with any swelling or heated-up feet. And if you're really feeling adventurous after that, you can lie on your back with your hips pretty close to a wall and get your legs up the wall. That also helps with swelling and bonus: It's a nice way to stretch the hips. You can even drop your legs open and away from each other. We call that exercise legs on the wall. When you move your legs away from each other, you get more stretching of the hips, not only the backs of the legs, but the groin inside of the legs too. It's a great leg recovery exercise and you do not have to do it on the floor. You can often do it on a bed. Your legs are just going to be on like maybe above on the wall that's above the headboard if there is a headboard or a wall to the side. So anyway, if you can't get all the way to the ground, just look around. There's probably something that you can sit on that will hold your torso while your legs are up the wall.
All right. Who is ready to go somewhere? Well, I am. I'm at least ready to get out of this bathroom where I'm recording this episode. And I want to end with this because I don't want to end with the bathroom thing. My editor, Penelope Jackson, once said this about vacations. "Vacation doesn't have to equal indulgence. It's simply a period of time when you can make your day look like the way that you would like your life to look most of the time but you can't because of work or other obligations. This means maybe on vacation you're getting more sleep. Maybe you're spending more time outside. Maybe you're moving more. Maybe you want to see interesting things. You want to eat thoughtful meals. You want to do all of these things more slowly. Whatever it is for you, I hope this episode gave you a few movement tips to help you maximize this glorious part of the year. This glorious part of our life - where we get to be choosiest about what we do. Amigos. Feliz viaje! Mwah.
This has been the Move Your DNA podcast with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan McCormack. Thanks, Dan. This podcast is produced by me, Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen. Well done, Annette. Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com .