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Should you exercise on holiday?

Updated: Mar 25

Chloe Gray for Workouts, Stylist Magazine

In defence of the hotel HIIT workout...​

With the easing of lockdown restrictions announced, there’s one thing on our minds: holidays. Whether that’s getting away to a green list destination or staycationing to make the most of local areas, getting away from it all is top of our list.

How you spend your holiday is personal – and controversial. For some, holidays are a chance to remain horizontal on a beach, only moving to turn the page of their book or order a cocktail from the bar. For others, it’s a time to throw themselves into exercise. Since lockdown, active holidays have become more popular, and hiking and beach holidays in the UK are pretty much fully booked for 2021 (seriously, have you tried getting a hotel in Cornwall?).

I love exercising on holiday, whether that’s taking long hikes, doing morning yoga or setting myself up for a HIIT session outside. When I do it, however, my family and friends look at me with raised eyebrows. They mutter something like, “you’re on holiday, take a day off!” or “aren’t you here to rest?”.

I get why people may think that a holiday should be reserved for doing nothing. Unless I’ve been on a plane and really need to stretch, my body will crave some rest for the first few days. It won’t take long for me to want to bounce around, though, encouraging a family walk or a stretch in the sun.


If you’re an already active person, stopping all movement can really make you feel out of whack. After months of daily activity, I find that my body gets stiff and achy when forced to sit still , and I get irritated with my pent up energy. “Exercise helps you to feel fresher, get a decent night sleep and generally feel better,” explains coach Nancy Best – all things I want while I’m trying to enjoy myself on holiday. “Looking after yourself shouldn’t stop on holiday. If anything, it’s a great time to recalibrate those practices.”

Exercising on holiday doesn’t mean being tied to your hotel gym. I love the fact that I have more time to prioritise long walks without worrying that I have to get back for a meeting. If I fancy a day in the sun or have other plans, I enjoy being able to do super-quick, higher-intensity workouts that I otherwise avoid. I find HIIT and highly-taxing exercise too stressful on my body to do during the working week, but there’s nothing I love more than a 15-minute sweat session when I’m feeling relaxed.

Plus, I do just genuinely miss working out after a few days without it. “Exercising on holiday is actually a testament to how much you enjoy the training that you’re doing in your life. So many people hate exercise and rush off on holiday to get away from their routine. How positive is it that your habits are so well ingrained that it’s a joy and a pleasure to keep moving?” says Best.

Emma Obayuvana, a trainer from the Strong Women Collective, is passionate about keeping moving when away too. “To me, working out is just the same as having my coffee in the morning or a nice hot bath. Movement is just an integral part of my weekly wellness,” she says.

“The problem is, people end up in a toxic circle where they increase the amount of workouts they do before holiday, then do nothing when they’re away, and feel guilty about that and overcompensate again when they’re home.”

I agree: one possible reason that people assume holidays should be no-exercise zones is that they see a holiday as something enjoyable, and exercise as a chore. Movement as punishment is a well-ingrained concept, hence why it’s the first thing that goes out the door when we are thinking about how to spend a week in the most fun way possible.


Of course, there’s a lot to be said for taking a break from your programming and allowing yourself time to unwind. “But swinging from one extreme to the other isn’t good for your body. It’s best to just keep moving in the way you enjoy,” says Obayuvana.

Being less rigid with what ‘counts’ as a workout is the first step to enjoying being active on holiday. Exploring a city by foot is an easy decision if you like walking, doing yoga on the beach is brilliant if you know how good mobilising your body is for you and cycling to brunch makes total sense when you love moving your body.

Tuning in to what your body wants is key – some days that really might be sitting in a bar all day, and that’s totally fine. But other days it might actually want to walk, run and jump around. “How nice for you and your mental wellbeing to go on holiday, relax, enjoy the vitamin D, the swimming and the relaxed pace, while also filling your body with all of those amazing endorphins,” adds Obayuvana.


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