Driving with family through your state or across the country offers an affordable, fun-filled way to escape for a day, weekend or longer. But it’s often on vacation that we let our health goals slip. That doesn’t have to be the case, says Mekhala Garvin, MD Anderson Cancer Prevention Center health educator.
We talked to Garvin about how you can make your road trip a healthy one. Here’s what she had to say.
Schedule the day with sun safety in mind
Driving to each location on your itinerary during the sun’s peak hours – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. - will allow you to bike, climb, raft or kayak during the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are less powerful. Exposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer.
Remember, even if you avoid the midday sun, you should always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it often. And wear sunscreen even while you're in the car.
Stop for exercise breaks
You may be on the move, but long stretches in the car mean long periods of sitting and inactivity. So don't rest at the next rest stop. Stretch and get active to make the most of the time out of the car.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
You can get this amount of activity in 10-minute increments by taking a brisk walk during restroom or gas breaks. Or get the family moving by kicking around a soccer ball or throwing a Frisbee for a few minutes.
“We recommend breaking up long periods of sitting with a little activity,” Garvin says. “Not only will this help you get some exercise, but it will also help you feel more energized and alert.”
You can eat healthy on the road
Diet plays a huge role in reducing a person’s chances for cancer.
Stop for local produce. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round can help you maintain a healthy weight, which lowers your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Produce stands are a great place to re-stock your cooler with healthy treats.
Go berry picking. It’s the perfect time to visit a nearby berry farm because these treats reach their peak in summer months. Brightly colored fruits like strawberries and blueberries are jam-packed with antioxidants that can help reduce your risk of cancer.
You can eat them raw or make them part of your roadside picnic.
If you can’t add in an extra stop, bring healthy snacks.
“Try fresh fruits and vegetables or healthy nonperishable snacks like nuts or whole grain pretzels,” Garvin says.
Stopping at a gas station or rest stop? Resist the temptation to load up on sodas or sports drinks and choose water. You'll save yourself a lot of empty calories, and avoid a sugar crash later that can put the brakes on your fun.
Work in a hike
If your trip takes you by state or national parks or even just a nice bit of nature on your road trip, take advantage. It's the perfect opportunity to enjoy nature and take long walks or hikes.
Brisk nature walks or hikes are an great way to exercise. Plus, if you hike in a heavily wooded area, trees will help protect you from the sun.
Another great benefit is the sense of relaxation and calm you get from nature walks. Reduced stress plays a big part in maintaining a healthy immune system, which can help the body better defend itself from diseases like cancer.
“Hiking is a great way to see the sites while traveling and lower your cancer risk,” Garvin says.
No matter where you’re going, summer vacation is not an excuse to take a vacation from making healthy choices. Remember, there are still a lot of ways to stay healthy.