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This blog is purely informational and not meant to take the place of individual medical nutrition therapy (MNT). For serious medical conditions, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. 

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Q: I travel a lot for work. How can I stay active?

Get steps at the airport.

A: Staying active while traveling may be easier than you realize. Here are some easy steps you can take to stay on track while on the road.

I'm at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C., wearing a backpack and carrying a duffel bag. I race along, blending into the crowd of travelers. However, I'm not rushing to my flight. I'm taking a moment to get some steps.

While I walk, I inconspicuously bend and extend the arm that is carrying the duffel, sort of like a dumbell row. It's a slight movement. No one is the wiser. I work my arm to fatigue, then switch sides.

I carry on like this from Gates 1 to 22, back and forth a couple of times. By the end, my heart rate is elevated and my arms are burning. I count that as 10 minutes of physical activity, then settle in to write this article.

I just spent the weekend at a conference and, like everybody else, traveling for work disrupts my usual exercise routine. But I'm determined to stay on track wherever I go.

Whether you wear a fitness tracker, use a health app, or carry a pedometer, steps have become a valued commodity. Walking is an excellent form of exercise that is accessible to many frequent travelers. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities around you.

If you can't make it to the hotel fitness center, here are some easier ways to incorporate physical activity into your work and travel days.

On travel days...

Skip the moving sidewalk at the airport.

Many large airports have moving sidewalks or even trams to transport travelers to distant gates. However, travel days can also include a lot of sitting--waiting at the gate, sitting on the flight, riding in a car to the hotel. While the walk to the gate may seem like a haul, it may be your best opportunity to get steps on travel days. Consider your travel bags an extra bonus that makes those steps more challenging.

Skip the wait.

Some trips might have you waiting at the gate for a while before your plane arrives. Studies show that sitting for more than 30-60 minutes at a time can be detrimental to your long-term health. While there's little opportunity to move on the plane, break up those long waits at the airport with a walk down the hall, even if it's only for a few minutes.

On business days...

Skip the ride to the office.

If you are able to stay at a hotel near the office, walking to and fro can be an efficient way to be both active and productive. A morning walk can help energize your mind for better focus at work, and a walk afterwards can help reduce the stress of the day.

walking to work in the city

Swap the working lunch for a power walk.

Invite your coworkers to talk over a walk after lunch. Walking can also help stabilize blood sugar after the meal, which can help you and your team stay energized for the afternoon.

Swap the elevator for the stairs.

While this is a classic swap that needs no explanation, it is worth noting the added intensity of stairs compared to walking. Using stairs engages your muscles differently than walking on a flat plane. Take advantage of the added challenge and variation.

Swap "exercise" for "physical activity."

If you have the time and motivation to use the hotel fitness center, more power to you. But for many work travelers, it's hard to make that extra effort at the end of a stressful day. But if you can redefine your idea of exercise and know that every step counts, you will become more aware of the opportunities around you. With just a few tweaks to your usual travel routine, steps and activity minutes can add up quite quickly and efficiently. You'll likely find that staying active keeps your metabolism revved up, which can help mitigate the impact of some of those business dinners.

Skip the tour bus.

If you scheduled some time for sightseeing, there are a variety of ways to be active while exploring. Tour on foot. Rent a bike. Check out the city park or local trails. Join the locals in a yoga class or 5K. Go dancing after dinner. When in Rome, exercise as the Romans do.

Set a daily goal

While reaching your step goal is always a win, getting some of those steps at a brisk pace can further benefit blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, arthritis, and countless other conditions.

Aim to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity movement each day. From a 10 minute walk to the office to a 10 minute power walk at lunch to the walk back to the hotel at the end of the day, finding those 30 minutes may be easier than you think.

For more tips on staying active, check out these other FAQs:

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