I’m no stranger to the vacation mindset. When I started my first job out of college, I began to view any time off from work as my time—a break from real-life obligation. Although I led an active lifestyle, I found it difficult to work out while traveling. I wanted to dissociate from everything that had become part of the daily slog of my new, grown-up life, which often resulted in my feeling self-conscious, sluggish, and unbalanced on return from my time off. Not really what one hopes for from a vacation, right?
So, when I began to plan an extended trip to Europe this summer, I started to think about not just how I wanted to feel while I was on the trip but how I wanted to feel when I got back. I didn’t want to regret long dinners al fresco or indulging in local wine and desserts. I wanted this time to be relaxing but also rejuvenating. I wanted to have the opposite of a vacation hangover: I wanted a vacation afterglow. That’s exactly what travel should be.
And then it hit me: We take vacations to temporarily abdicate our responsibilities. We take vacations to get a little taste of the freedom we experienced as kids. And healthy, happy kids eat ice cream when they want, they eat pasta when they want, and they play when they want—which is often. From swimming to tree-climbing to a good ol’ foot race, kids move for pleasure—for the unrestrained joy of it. When did we lose that joy? And why? I wanted to know what would happen if I decided to approach exercising on vacation from the mindset of a child, so I promised myself that, during this trip to Europe, I’d do exactly that.
It turns out exercise improves your mood more than that margarita ever could. "The link between exercise and happiness is pretty strong," says Michael Otto, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Boston University. And we’re not just talking about those quick hits of endorphins you get after a good run. Those endorphins decrease anxiety over time as well. It’s no wonder kids are so gleeful all the time, huh?
Here’s how I made exercise more fun than it had been since I was 8: