My sister Lucy and I spent two weeks traveling through England this summer, the first time we’d ever done something like this together. We knew from the planning process that our vision for the trip was aligned: we both wanted an active vacation – walking, hiking and sight-seeing; immersing ourselves in green and blue spaces – the woodlands, gardens and moors, as well as the ocean, rivers, harbors and beaches. (For more on this, see my last post Mother Nature’s Gym).
We chose England for the chance to visit London for a few days and then explore Cornwall and Devon. We were on the move, visiting five different areas, staying two or three days in each locale, which meant we had to pack lean and mean in carry-ons and be prepared to move our luggage frequently. The weather gods smiled upon us with gorgeous sunshine every day – not a drop of rain in two weeks!
Lucy and I are both athletic but prepared for the trip in different ways. She’s an advanced yoga disciple, has a strong upper body from performing inverted positions, and diligently works on her posture and alignment with the meticulous Iyengar method. She prepared by attending extra yoga classes and adding more steps to her day. As a fitness enthusiast focusing on strength training and running, I prepared for the trip with three weekly sessions on the strength machines at the gym, two hours of running and frequent sprints up the steep NYC subway escalators.
Our itinerary dictated the level of activity every day, and we alternated between easy and vigorous days, whether sight-seeing in London, hiking the coast or the moors, or traveling by train. At the end of each day we were curious to see how many steps and miles we had covered. Not that distance traveled was the point of our trip, but just for fun we tracked it. We usually logged between 10,000 to 20,000 steps but on a couple of days, we logged more than 25,000 (10 plus miles)! Needless to say, we burned off all those full-English breakfasts!
A few observations from the trip:
My cardio training served me well both on the steep trails and on the long-duration hikes. According to a recent study, “exercise snacking” several times a day with brief, high intensity workouts of about 20 seconds can improve cardio fitness and leg power. (As reported by Gretchen Reynolds in the NY Times.
Our beach walks in Cornwall helped preserve our knee joints and strengthened our lower legs. In general, when walking barefoot, the impact of hitting the ground is more likely to rise through soft tissue - muscles and tendons - creating less pressure on the bones, ankles and knee joints. Walking or running on the sand improves strength, balance and endurance. Sand stimulates muscles on the inside and outside of the ankles and calves, while the small muscles and tendons in the feet work to create overall stability and foot strength. For more about a new study researching the benefits of walking barefoot, see Gretchen Reynolds’ column in the NY Times here.
Lucy continued her normal upper back strengthening routine while we were away. She packed a portable stretch band that she used religiously for a quick 15 reps of these two exercises as seen in this video to the right.
We had plenty of opportunity for enjoying down time, a key factor of self-care and well-being. By soaking up the beauty around us - the blues and greens of the sea, sky and landscapes – with no premeditated goals, we felt restored in body, mind and spirit.Bonnie Tsui calls this “fallow time” and writes about the importance of taking regular time-outs “to rest, to read and to reconnect” in her column in the NY Times.
And on the subject of reading, our experience was enhanced by two of Daphne du Maurier’s classics from the 1930s that are set in the areas we were visiting: “Rebecca” is a gothic novel set in Cornwall that reads like a current best seller with its high level intrigue. And “Jamaica Inn,” which takes place on the moors of Devon, is a gripping story of romance, violence, cunning and deceit.
Sharing this experience of reading, traveling and appreciating natural splendor together was truly a sisters’ trip of a lifetime!
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For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out Joan’s book Strength Training Exercises for Women.