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Integrating Fitness Into Your Holiday: Seaside, Skiing, City, And Off The Grid

This summer, book a holiday with fitness benefits

This summer, book a holiday with fitness benefits

It took long enough, but the Zeitgeist has finally moved on from that old mantra, “summer bodies are made in winter”. In 2023 we know that fit, healthy bodies are made and maintained all year round. Except, that it is in December. Cue the first notes of Mariah and all the hard work we’ve been putting in since January dissolves in a festive frenzy of year-end parties, cocktail catch-ups and holiday happy hours, and if you’re travelling, well… Somehow there’s just never room for exercise in a suitcase. 

We get it. After a year of deadlines, sprints and deliverables, who wouldn’t want a break from routine? So, our summer fitness guide is not about how to stick to a fitness routine during your holiday (yuck). Instead, it’s about integrating fitness into your holiday so sneaky-like, you won’t even realize it’s there.

Destination: Seaside                                                            

Beach holidays needn’t be reserved for sunning yourself on the sand. There’s a lot of fun – and fitness! – to be found in the water. You can get a workout by scuba diving, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling or just, you know, swimming. 

Swimming is one of the few activities that works all the major muscle groups in the body – and it’s low impact, and if that’s not enough of a sell, “a regular swimming habit could be considered a non-pharmacological to managing type-2 diabetes and hypertension,” said a 2021 study in the journal BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Swimming is one of the few activities that works all the major muscle groups in the body and it’s low impact. NATHANAEL DESMEULES/UNSPLASH 

The study participants were all inactive and of average swimming ability – so, your run-of-the-mill holidaymaker – and they did 120 minutes of swimming three days a week for the duration of the 16-week experiment. Now, when you’re thinking in terms of swimming at the gym – laps – that doesn’t sound like the most appealing way to spend two hours out of your day on holiday, but there’s more – the 120 minutes comprised a 20-minute warm-up, 10 minutes of cardio and then 85 minutes of free swimming that was “moderate and below average and did not require high effort” before ending with a quick five-minute cool-down.

When you put it like that, what’s 85 minutes of snorkelling or body-surfing between friends?


That was the temperature of the water in the swimming study – which makes the idea of staying in longer a more attractive one than, say, Cape Town’s icy Clifton. Find similar ocean temps in parts of Zanzibar, Jamaica, Hawaii, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Dubai, Thailand, Maldives and Mexico. 

Destination: Northern Hemisphere

Sacrificing a slice of summer to go skiing in the north? Lucky you! And not just because of roaring fires, spiked hot chocolate and the coolest après-ski fashion that we never get to rock down here in sunny SA. Skiing is a brilliant workout, with numerous health benefits.

A 2019 meta-analysis in the journal Frontiers in Physiology investigated. The overall benefits of skiing by looking at the results of numerous individual studies assessing skiing’s effect on specific aspects of health and fitness. “Skiing boosts cardiovascular fitness, provides a strength workout – particularly of the lower body – and improves balance,” said the study.

But the perks didn’t stop there. A 2021 study in Frontiers in Psychiatry found skiers to have a 60% lower chance of being diagnosed with anxiety. Other studies have also found skiing to improve mental health, attributing a lot of the benefit to being outdoors in nature. And, generally, exercising in cold conditions has been found to promote fat burning.

Well, okay then, the cold never bothered us anyway! 

Get Ski Fit

Going skiing for the first time? A bit of training in the weeks leading up to the trip will go a long way towards keeping you on the slopes for longer so you can have more fun – and get better value for money! If you haven’t been exercising at all, focus on cardio. According to Dr Josef Niebauer, a professor of sports medicine and cardiology and director of the Institute for Molecular Sports and Rehabilitation Medicine at Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria, heart attacks are the number one cause of death on the slopes. And it’s mainly due to unfit people with a predisposition to heart conditions attempting to go skiing and their hearts just not being able handle the exertion. You’ll also want to strengthen your lower-body muscles, which have to work hard when you’re skiing.

Try this: Skiing is an interval workout – with periods of exertion interspersed with periods of rest. You can prep for it by doing bootcamp or HIIT classes at the gym or selecting an interval programme on your cardio machine of choice. The step machine will work a lot of the lower-body muscles used for skiing.

And this: Squats, lunges, step-ups, wall-sits, calf raises, glute bridges and stability-ball leg curls will help strengthen the muscles of your lower body. One-legged exercises, skipping and performing moves on a BOSU (the half ball at the gym) will help train balance and ankle stability. 

Destination: City

At first glance, an urban holiday may be associated more with shopping and food than with exercise, but hear us out: if you’re a deskbound office worker, exploring a new city probably means you’re clocking more steps throughout the day than you would back home, even if you’re not dedicating any time to structured workouts. 

Research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that sitting for a long period of time was associated with an increased risk of no less than 34 chronic diseases – including diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. Yoh! And if you hit the gym regularly, you may still be at risk. 

According to research in The Journal of Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, a person who works out five days a week will still face all of these same risks if they’re sedentary the rest of the time. Researchers dubbed it the “active couch potato” phenomenon. So, essentially, your daily workout may make you fitter and stronger – a good thing for being able to climb stairs, carry heavy shopping bags without putting your back out and many other reasons – but if you’re deskbound for the rest of the day, your health could still suffer. 

Now, consider how many steps you clock on an average shopping trip to your local mall and imagine how many more steps you’ll get in over many hours while exploring a new city – even if that exploration takes the form of meandering from store to store. Add in the fact that by the end of the day you’ll be carrying numerous shopping bags – and that you may have been carrying a backpack from the outset – and that dose of exotic retail therapy just became a solid workout. 

Passport, credit card, action!

Active Sightseeing

The traditional bus tour is a great introduction to a new city, but consider these fun, fit alternatives

New York

Best of Brooklyn Walking Tour: You can’t appreciate Brooklyn’s vibrant neighborhoods from a bus, like you can walking the streets for two hours in the company of a local guide. Book it through the New York Sightseeing Pass,


Jack The Ripper Walking Tour: Prepare for a spine-chilling exploration of the City’s East End as you trace the frightening footsteps of England’s most notorious serial killer. Book it through London Walks,


Bicycle Tour: The idea of joining the Big Mango’s notorious traffic on two wheels may be terrifying for a South African, but rest assured, Thai drivers are not what we’re used to. Get a more authentic experience of Thailand’s capital with a local guide. Book it through: Just Nok Bike Tours,

Cape Town

Street Art Walking Tour: Drag yourself away from the beach and the winelands and take a guided tour of some of the Mother City’s impressive street art. 

Destination: Off The Grid

So, you want to get as far away from anything resembling normal life as possible? A multi-day hike is an excellent way to do it. Immerse yourself in nature, plan your day according to the rising and setting of the sun, rather than the notifications on your load-shedding app, fall asleep in stillness and wake up to birdsong. 

Hiking is an obviously active holiday – you’re walking for hours each day, often over uneven terrain, possibly up and down hills, and you’re carrying the weight of a small child on your back while you’re at it. Holiday fitness goals attained. 

Swimming is one of the few activities that works all the major muscle groups in the body and it’s low impact. NATHANAEL DESMEULES/UNSPLASH 

But the benefits of hiking go beyond the obvious cardio and strength gains. According to The American Journal Of Lifestyle Medicine, spending time in nature has been shown in numerous studies to lower blood pressure and stress levels, deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for your fight or flight response) and strengthen the immune system. The studies found that the benefits start as soon as you enter a natural environment and then start to build, increasing steadily as you do mild to moderate exercise in nature. Research has also found that exercising outdoors may be more effective than doing the same exercise indoors. Nature’s calling.

Join The Club

If you’ve never done a multi-day hike before, it’s a good idea to team up with people who have experience


Itchy Feet offers a number of different guided hikes suited to different times of year and ability levels. 

Eastern Cape

Wild side Hiking has regular guided hikes along the Wild Coast with the option of additional activities, such as fishing and learning about Xhosa culture and customs.

Western Cape

For those not ready to go completely wild, the Hermanus Camino is a six-day (five spent walking) exploration of the Overberg, slackpacking style. 

Hiking South Africa is an online community of hikers where you can find up-to-date information on trails around the country, gear reviews and more. 

By Wanita Nicol/MODERN/MEDIA24 

Edited by Debrah and Newsdesk Manager

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