Have you ever gone on holiday only to return, carrying not just souvenirs, but a few unwanted extra kilos as well?
Despite our best intentions, holidays often mean an excess of food, relaxation and very little exercise. The cost of this good time? Frustration when we face the holiday damage.
But there is a way to take a break, still enjoy what you eat and not come home to that dreaded weight gain.
The answer? Go on a walking holiday.
If you're conjuring up images of super-fit, 20-somethings trekking the Kokoda trail, think again.
Active holidays, such as walking tours, are seeing a rise in popularity among people aged over 40, and fortunately that doesn't mean trudging through leech-infested jungles lugging heavy backpacks.
The reason for this rise in popularity is a need to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life while experiencing something completely new.
Mark Kininmonth runs a company specialising in self-guided walking tours of The Great Ocean Road and says, "Many of our walkers who are over the age of 40 seem to have reached a point in their lives where family life and work constraints are starting to ease. In their place they are looking for new and memorable experiences, particularly in the great outdoors.
"People are also more conscious about their health and doing a multi-day walk is one way they can take care of their health while having a good time," he adds.
Walking holidays tend to vary in length from short walks of around three days to longer walks of a week or more. In most cases, tours are graded from easy to challenging, so you can select a walk that suits your fitness level.
If you're worried about how you're going to manage carrying all your belongings, many tour companies can transfer your luggage, book your accommodation and even arrange your meals. So, forget the idea of a heavy backpack. All you need to do is carry a day pack with lunch and water and then, of course, start walking.
Aside from preventing holiday weight gain, there are many other benefits of walking and going on a walking holiday, which I discovered recently on my own walking adventure.
Spending your days walking means you can improve your fitness and tone up at the same time.
Walking holidays often mean traversing across different terrains. One day you could be firing up your glutes and trekking up and down hills, which is an excellent way to tone your legs and bottom. Then you might be on sand dunes getting a fantastic overall body workout while burning more calories than walking on a flat surface.
We all know how important it is to get away from work but it's equally important to switch off take time away from your phone, the internet and social media.
Walking tours often involve hiking in remote areas where there's no internet coverage, and sometimes, not even phone coverage.
While some people cringe at the idea of not having access to their mobiles, Mark explains that once they're out walking, they change their tune. "The benefit of having patchy or no internet access is that you can switch off and concentrate fully on the natural environment that surrounds you. This enforced mindfulness can be quite liberating and addictive," he says.
For those people worried about walking in areas that have no mobile reception, many tour companies offer personal location beacons in the event of an emergency.
There's something special about achieving a goal and that includes finishing a multi-day walk.
"Walking in nature and immersing yourself in beautiful surroundings and wildlife is definitely the highlight of a walking holiday, but it doesn't end there. Setting a goal; training and getting fit before you leave home; and enjoying the sense of achievement felt at the end of an incredible scenic walk is all part of the journey," says Mark.
One of the greatest benefits of walking holidays is connecting with nature.
Picture walking in forests alongside streams and waterfalls, over rolling hills surrounded by olive groves or along isolated beaches complete with remnants of ancient shipwrecks. Most walking tours are designed for you to experience breathtaking scenery as you travel.
In addition to the physical benefits of walking and the visual feast provided by the scenery, there's also growing scientific evidence that immersing yourself in nature improves your mood and mental health. In fact, studies have shown that walking in nature not only reduces stress but also enhances mood and even improves cognitive function.
Coming home from a week-long hike across Tuscany, Italy where I ate pastry-laden breakfasts, creamy pastas and multiple gelato scoops daily, I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I got home, my scales stayed the same.
That's because walking is a great way to burn calories. Walking at a moderate pace can see you burn up to 300 calories an hour. And as most walking holidays involve walking an average of five hours a day, you can afford to enjoy an indulgence or two.
Before you leave
Ensure that you've received all the required vaccines for the country or countries you're visiting. Some countries can refuse you entry if you're unvaccinated.
Visit health.govt.nz or safetravel.govt.nz to find out which vaccinations you need, or talk to your GP.
Stay hydrated on the plane
Drink. Drink. Drink. Water, that is.
To counter the effects of low humidity, which increases your chance of getting airborne viruses, drink plenty of water. Studies have shown that sipping small amounts throughout the flight is more beneficial than drinking a lot of water in one sitting. Making sure you stay adequately hydrated on board is one of the easiest easy to offset the changes that happen to your body on long haul flights.
Use a saline nasal spray
The low humidity on the plane can also dry out your nasal passages leaving you more vulnerable to infection. Using a non-medicated saline nasal spray is an excellent way to keep the nasal passages moist.
Keep your hands clean
Take some antibacterial wipes and wash your hands regularly. According to Travelmath.com, tray tables, overhead air vents, seatbelt buckles, toilet flush buttons and toilet stall locks are the dirtiest surfaces on airplanes. Washing your hands regularly and wiping your tray table and seatbelt buckle with antibacterial wipes go a long way in helping to prevent the spread of germs.
Keep your air vent on
While it may cause you to shiver, studies have shown that keeping the overhead air ventilation on is actually a key way of avoiding illness. This is because the blowing air creates a barrier around you, forcing airborne viruses away.
To prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), get up regularly and walk around, especially on long flights.
Contrary to popular belief, DVT doesn't just occur on planes but also on long bus and train trips too. When you can't get up, flexing and rotating your ankles for a few minutes every half an hour is a good way to exercise your calf muscles, as well as encourage better circulation.
At your destination
Be careful what you put in your mouth. Visit safetravel.govt.nz to see what's safe to eat and drink at your destination.
If you're worried about getting traveller's diarrhoea from eating contaminated food or water, there are products on the market that claim to minimise your chances of getting sick, by binding to the germs that cause diarrhoea and preventing them from attaching to the intestinal wall. Check out travelan.com.au for more information.
Out in nature
If you're out in nature and want to drink from that crystal-clear mountain stream, think again.
While they may look safe, streams, creeks and springs can be contaminated with water-borne bacteria such as Giardia intestinalis and Cryptosporidium.
So, make sure you carry plenty of water or be prepared to purify your water using methods such as boiling, water purification tablets, UV-light water purifiers or water filters.
Stock up on essentials
As well as food and water, always bring a first aid kit with all the essentials – including plenty of plasters for blisters – when you're out in nature. And don't forget your sunscreen and insect repellent.
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