We’ve all been there: the New Year’s resolution to get into shape, followed by a few months of serious commitment, healthy eating, a fitness routine, and the first gratifying results. Then, of course, comes that spring or summer vacation that throws you completely off track and ends with a few extra pounds and a feeling of having to start back at square one.
Italy is a country that can easily lead you off course if you’re not careful. The food here is divine, and the pace slow. Weeks of long, leisurely meals followed by afternoon siestas, and you are bound to come back with both suitcases and waistband straining at the excess weight. If you would like to limit the damage during your trip, here are a few tips to staying fit and (reasonably) trim while visiting the Bel Paese.
Try to limit your jet lag
You may begin with the best intentions of sticking to a fitness routine and healthy meal choices, but there is nothing like sleep deprivation to drain your energy and whittle down your self-discipline. There are a number of strategies to limit the effects of jet lag, including controlling your exposure to light, avoiding a nap the first day of your arrival, opting for water rather than alcohol or coffee, and taking melatonin or other sleep aids. It will probably take a few days to completely adjust to your new time zone, but if you are careful to manage your jet lag immediately, you’ll be much less likely to fall off the diet and exercise wagon.
(Photo by Jon Shave via Flickr)
Schedule for exercise
If you are committed to exercising while in Italy, try to be consistent about scheduling a time during your day, and make sure you plan ahead and pack some hand washable fitness clothing and suitable shoes. It’s easy for the day to get away from you, so first thing in the morning is often the best option for your daily workout. Exercising early in the day is a good way to shake your jet lag and get your body on the Italian clock as quickly as possible, keeping you from lingering at the breakfast buffet – which can be a slippery slope of overindulgence – and giving you an entire day to rinse out or launder your sweaty clothing before its next use.
Strategize your exercise
Making exercise a priority on any trip involves a bit of planning ahead, and this is true of Italy, as well. Try to opt for hotels with an equipped fitness area, though be sure to check carefully about what exactly that may include. Many Italian accommodations – even luxury hotels – offer very limited equipment and space in their fitness rooms, so prepare a few adaptable workouts which you can choose among based upon what you have available. Most fitness areas provide at least a treadmill and/or elliptical machine, a small weight machine, and a few free weights. More complete hotel gyms have a variety of weight machines, yoga mats and balls, a full range of free weights, and even a personal trainer on staff. Otherwise, you can search out accommodations with tennis courts, a pool suitable for swimming laps, or bikes for loan.
(Photo by Upsticksngo Crew via Flickr)
Booking accommodations with a fitness area is a good way to guarantee a work out, but don’t forget that a morning or evening walk or run is both excellent exercise and a fun way to explore a city or town as it starts to come to life or quiet down each day. Ask your hotel concierge to recommend a route through town or a nearby park (especially in Rome, which has a number of historic “villa” parks). Avoid exercise during the heat of the day and in the dark. Many Italians walk or jog in the cool morning and evening hours, so you will be in good company. Italian cities and towns still have cobblestone streets, so be careful of your footing.
(Photo by Paolo Gamba via Flickr)
Can’t be bothered to formally exercise, but would like to burn off some of that gelato? Italy is a very walkable country, and urban Italians walk and bike much more than drive. An easy way to include moderate exercise in your touring itinerary is to simply make sure you spend at least a bit of each day walking. You will probably find that a daily walk happens spontaneously as you explore Italy’s towns and cities, but if you’ve had a day of wine tasting or boating, schedule an hour “passeggiata” in the late afternoon or after dinner. Not only will you burn a few calories, but you will be participating in the timeless Italian tradition of the evening stroll.
Savor (with caution)
(Photo by evoixsd via Flickr)
The most dangerous place in Italy for the fitness-minded is at the table. Italian food is hard to resist, and if you aren’t careful, you can easily gain 10 pounds in a single trip. There are a couple of strategies to limiting the amount of damage the temptations of Italian cuisine can cause. First, take your cue from the Italians and have your main meal at lunch, opting for a light dinner. Avoid the siren song of the buffet breakfast, and skip the pastries for more healthy options. Don’t feel obligated to order a three course meal (Italians don’t), but opt for a single course and a vegetable side dish. Limit your pasta and bread intake, and choose a simply prepared meat or fish dish instead. You may find that you don’t gain weight at all during your visit – you’ll be eating food with fewer preservatives than the typical American diet and snacking a lot less than when at home.
If you have your own kitchen, take advantage of the excellent Italian markets and stock up on fresh produce to prepare lighter meals and snacks. Even if you don’t have a kitchen, stop by the local market for fruit and vegetables to snack on so you aren’t stuck with pizza by the slice or gelato when the mid-afternoon munchies call. Most importantly, savor each bite. Italians are notoriously leisurely diners, and a slower, more mindful meal is more likely to satisfy your appetite without having to order that tempting dessert.
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
All of that said, carpe diem! Italy is a joy for the senses, and food is one of the main pillars of this country’s history and culture. A bit of caution is always a good thing, but don’t skip the pleasures of the table completely during your trip!
Contributor: Rebecca Winke