By Mike Milne

Many power boaters have regular fitness routines at home —visits to the gym, classes at a fitness club, or home-based exercises, but out on the water for an extended cruise, they often leave thoughts of fitness behind.

A holiday on a boat, however, shouldn’t mean a holiday from fitness. Working physical activity and a daily workout into your cruising schedule doesn’t need to interfere with your relaxation and enjoyment. Ideally, it will become an integral part of your cruising lifestyle, keeping you in top shape and feeling your best.

It’s not about counting calories consumed (although our Galley Works column always has healthy and flavourful suggestions). It should instead be about burning those calories in enjoyable ways. Children and adolescents who have grown up boating usually find myriad ways to stay active while cruising, but adults sometimes need more encouragement.

by staying physically active, you’ll probably have more fun and arrive back at your home port feeling healthier, better rested and ready to resume your home fitness and activity routine.

There are many ways to include exercise routines and healthy activities into your cruising lifestyle. And by staying physically active, you’ll probably have more fun and arrive back at your home port feeling healthier, better rested and ready to resume your home fitness and activity routine. Or, you will be able to head back out on the water without a twinge of guilt.

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (from ParticipACTION) say adults aged 18 to 64 should get at least two-and-a-half hours of “moderate to vigourous aerobic physical activity” every week, preferably in intervals of 10 minutes or more. Also recommended, at least two days a week, are “muscle and bone strengthening activities.”

At first blush, it sounds like a lot. But remember that walking briskly during a re-provisioning stop qualifies as moderate aerobic activity. Heading home at a steady pace, with those provisions clinking together in a knapsack, provides muscle strengthening too.

Some marinas have small gyms or exercise facilities, but the best activities and workouts are those that can be easily incorporated into cruising routines. Those include shopping expeditions or outings to explore areas around new anchorages or ports of call.

If you are planning to begin a new program of exercise or strenuous activity, though, always remember to clear it with your doctor beforehand.

Few cruisers have room to conveniently transport bicycles, but walking only requires a comfortable and supportive pair of shoes. A knapsack will let you carry gear or supplies while maintaining correct posture and strengthening shoulder and back muscles.

Away from a marina or port, many anchorages offer ideal opportunities for hiking. Once again, good shoes are needed along with appropriate clothing and knowledge of the area.

Dedicated runners, walkers and hikers usually have no problem finding appropriate roads or paths. But sometimes — in remote, heavily wooded anchorages, for example — that’s just not possible. Skipping (also known as jump-rope) is an ideal alternative. All you need is a small, relatively flat piece of rock or ground and an easily stored, inexpensive jump rope. As a preferred activity by boxers in training, it’s one of the best forms of aerobic activity. Once you get the hang of it, it burns more than 700 calories an hour.

An hour-long brisk walk will burn about 368 calories while an hour of rowing consumes 588 calories.

Rowing, in a real dinghy instead of a machine, is also an ideal form of aerobic exercise. An hour-long brisk walk will burn about 368 calories while an hour of rowing consumes 588 calories. Inflatable dinghies, used by most cruisers, are notoriously hard to row, so either head upwind on the outbound leg of your rowing session (for an easy downwind return trip) or be prepared to motor home.

Cruisers who get serious about rowing will want to invest in a rigid-hull dinghy, more maneuverable in wind or waves and more satisfying to row. Having a good rowboat can provide plenty of exercise and save on fuel. It also means building more exercise into daily activities like picking up the morning newspaper in port or visiting friends for pre-dinner drinks in an anchorage.

Many cruisers also choose to paddle. Kayaks are increasingly popular but not always easy to carry onboard. Two-person kayaks are not easy to lift, so a couple or family usually needs two singles. With some planning, though, kayaks can often be lashed on deck or stowed in the cockpit while under way. Paddling a kayak is great exercise (almost as good a calorie-burner as rowing) but also a quiet, satisfying way to explore new anchorages.

The newest paddle-sport trend — stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) — is a great a combination of moderate aerobic activity, balance and muscle strengthening. Much like a surfboard, an SUP has aft skegs that provide directional stability and comes in a variety of lengths and widths. The paddles are long but usually break down for easy storage.

Paddleboards are easier than kayaks to carry onboard most cruisers and can often be tied down neatly on the foredeck or alongside stanchions and railings.

Swimming is also an ideal way to exercise during a summer cruise, when the water is warm and the anchorage quiet. Serious swimmers will travel with a wetsuit for cooler conditions. In a busy area, though, it’s often difficult to swim far enough and fast enough to get a good workout.

Aqua aerobics, exercising in place in the water, sometimes makes more sense. If you’ve ever attended a swimming pool water-exercise session, you’ll know the moves. “Running” in the water is one of them and other movements can include the use a floating “pool noodle” for upper-body resistance routines. Aqua aerobics is a great low-impact activity and often takes problematic joints out of the equation — eliminating another excuse for avoiding a regular workout.

As long as the water off your swim platform is deep enough, you can get a good workout within a few feet of your floating home. Wearing a lifebelt or PFD isn’t cheating, but rather lets you get a longer and more effective workout without worrying about staying afloat.

If you’d rather stay dry, there are plenty of benefits to working a session of stretches, yoga, Pilates or resistance-style exercises into your daily cruising routine. The only equipment you need is a yoga mat — a folding one can double as a cockpit cushion — and some resistance bands or rubber resistance tubes with or without handles.

you should be able to put together a 10- to 15-minute routine that can be completed on the cockpit floor or a flat foredeck.

If you already attend a gym or fitness club and have a daily workout that includes stretches, yoga or Pilates, you should be able to put together a 10- to 15-minute routine that can be completed on the cockpit floor or a flat foredeck. If you’re not sure what will work best, an instructor or trainer at your gym or fitness club will likely be able to help. Fitness instructors and personal trainers are used to helping people put together routines for travel situations; power boat cruising is just another unique situation.

Do-it-yourselfers can check the Internet for instructions (Google “resistance bands” or Flex-Band exercises or yoga or Pilates routines), or purchase a DVD outlining resistance band, yoga or Stott Pilates routines.

Yoga is supposed to have relaxing and energizing spiritual benefits. So a few sun salutes, warrior and downward dog poses on the foredeck won’t just impress your cruising friends (and give them something to discuss over their morning coffee), but will be surefire ways to happily greet a new day on the water.

Pilates-style exercises, originated by the late Joseph Pilates and originally used by dancers, emphasize core body strength, breathing and flexibility. They are ideal for lengthening muscles, loosening joints and providing the kind of strength and flexibility for comfortable cruising.

More traditional calisthenics, including pull-ups, pushups, crunches, squats, step-ups and other exercises, are familiar to most boaters (remember high school gym class?) and also require no equipment and little space.

Resistance-band exercises will be familiar to anyone who has had physiotherapy treatment, but are also ideal for cruisers. Used with or without handles, resistance bands (Flex-Band is a well-known brand) are cheap, easy to store and take up very little space.

Many of the resistance-band exercises require tying one end of the band to a fixed object, and the cleats and/or railings surrounding most cruising boat cockpits provide all kinds of options. Take some time to decide the best location for your exercise routine.

With help from a trainer, DVD or the Internet, you can pull together an exercise routine that works as well or better than a session on a workout machine.

starting a day with a series of stretches to loosen up back, shoulder, leg and arm muscles will help keep you loose and comfortable during a long passage.

Power boaters inevitably end up spending most of their time sitting down while under way. So, starting a day with a series of stretches to loosen up back, shoulder, leg and arm muscles will help keep you loose and comfortable during a long passage. Crew on larger cruisers can walk around while the boat is under way, assuming wave conditions are suitable and there are plenty of good handholds. Ideally, the skipper will be able to stand at the helm to operate the boat, as well as sitting.

Inevitably, though, a long passage, especially in rough conditions, can bring aching muscles and sore joints. Stretching always helps, but remember to equally stretch the muscles on both sides of your body, not just the side that aches. Your body tries to compensate for stresses, so a balanced approach to stretching is needed.

When you arrive at your destination, there will be plenty of time for flat-out relaxation. But keeping physical activity and exercise in the mix will keep you fit and add to your enjoyment.

This article is featured in the Spring 2015 edition of Boats&Places magazine.

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