Where Science Meets Muse

Designing a Healthier You – Should You Take a Vacation or a Healthy ‘Staycation’? Take Some Vaykay!

Posted by Plish on August 12, 2010

So, you’re having a tough time getting your exercise time in and eating right?  But,  what can you expect?

You get home from work and you’re just plain tired.  You don’t want to cook, so you grab a quick snack that you picked up at the store and you nuke it,  or you run out for a bite, which you really don’t feel like doing because you’re tired. 

And working out? Forget it.  Either there are family  commitments or commitments to friends, or worse, that proposal needs to be done by tomorrow and you need to get going on it before it gets too late.

Morning comes and the routine starts over again….

and again…

…until vacation.

Ahhh, the word sounds so sweet.  When it arrives it’s even sweeter.  Time to get out of Dodge, get away from all the hassles – far away if possible.  If we can’t get out-of-town, at least we change the routine – get some extra sleep, go out and have some fun, which usually includes food and drink – sometimes more than is prudent, or healthy.

But does that mean that we should ditch the vacation if we want to be healthier?

The fitness columnists over at The Washington Post  and dietician Felicia Stoler, host of TLC’s reality show “Honey We’re Killing the Kids,” recommend taking a health based Staycation.  What is this comprised of?

Instead of sightseeing, you’ll explore how to build more physical activity into your daily life and figure out smarter ways to shop for groceries and plan meals. It’s unlikely you’ll lose 10 pounds in a week like they do on TV. But by getting a jump-start on an exercise routine in your own neighborhood and cooking in your own kitchen, you’re setting yourself up to continue these behaviors even when real life kicks in again.

In other words, utilize the time of your vacation to design a healthier you.

On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. After all, why wouldn’t such a vacation be good for you?  On the other, it sounds like a recipe for setting yourself up for disaster – where you’re proud of yourself for spending a week eating healthy, hitting the gym, and cooking your own meals, but crushed after you get back into your daily routine (See red text above) and you can’t get to the gym, can’t cook your own meals, and can’t seem to get enough time for yourself for sleep or recreation.

The article itself points out this could be a problem:

The key is remembering that you need to make these changes part of your regular routine, says physician Arthur Frank, founder and co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program. “A week of working out is essentially useless unless you can continue it,” he says.

And without a real itinerary, you could fall into the trap of snacking to alleviate boredom. “Most people do well much of the day until it becomes unstructured,” Frank says.

This is a design problem.  This particular design problem requires empathy and understanding of what the typical person is going through.   Spending a week working out, reading labels at the store, cooking meals to freeze later, doing yoga, going for walks and perhaps a museum or two, sounds great to a person who is a fitness expert or dietitian.  But, to the typical person that’s coming off the routine mentioned in the red text above, it’s seems like more work, it doesn’t seem particularly fun, and it isn’t worth using vacation time for.

So what should be done?

The goal here is to design a regimen that fits seamlessly into the current situation.  To aid in that process, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • What is the current routine?
  • What might a new routine look like (What  needs to be done and when does it need to be done?)
  • What ongoing processes need to be in place to support the routine?
  • What are the currently available options to help develop the new routine?
  • What are  important social roles and peer groups in my life? How do they fit in with the plan? Are other synergistic relationships possible given the current circumstances?

The purpose of asking these questions is to get a better handle on how a healthier routine can be incorporated into,  and sustained, within a person’s life. 

Can all this be done during a Staycation? 

Yes, but probably not as effectively.  Why?

Because a key aspect is missing during the Staycation: The Daily Routine

Creating a new routine shouldn’t be a one shot deal done over the course of a week.  If you’re making a commitment to a healthier life, it makes sense that you’re going to want to optimize the process of becoming healthier over the course of your life.  In other words, you’re going to want to, (and need to!)  experiment.  You can only do this if you’re in the routine and not on a break from it.   Plus, if you look at creating a health routine in this way, you’ll probably be less likely to beat yourself up when you lapse.  Lack of compliance might be less of a weakness in character, and more  an indication that something’s  changed in your life.  So, when you see yourself slipping, ask the above green questions again and redesign your routine appropriately.  In this way it’ll feel like a course correction, not a failure to get healthier!

It’s important to realize that this doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be done in a vacuum.  There are peer groups and support structures that can help you design your life and make your transition to a healthier you.   Dietitians, doctors, counselors, friends, family, fitness experts, co-workers,  online social networks, and yes, design professionals – all these want to, and are there to, support and help you become healthier. 

Which brings us back to the original question. 

Should you take a health-based Staycation?

If being healthier is your goal, taking a vacation isn’t going to hurt.  Embrace it, live in the now, don’t overdo it, and come back to work relaxed and confident in the knowledge that you’re designing a healthier life.  Don’t underestimate the need to be relaxed and away from it all.  You’ve been working hard and your entire being needs time to decompress. You can’t come up with creative ways to be healthier when you’re stressed out. 

So start dreaming about how your life can be different.  Ask yourself the above green questions.   Be open to, welcome, and look for people and groups who are supportive.  Find like-minded people and work together to get your company to build a work-out facility, or get healthier food (and snack food) on premises.  Plan yoga/Pilates sessions during lunch and break times.  If you want a longer workout (though research shows a lot of little workouts are just as good), pick a time to go to the gym when you’re in transit already (going to or from errands/work). 

You’ve got one body in this life.  Appreciate it, take charge of it and reflect on what works and what doesn’t.  It’s all a wonderful process and journey that should be enjoyed and filled with love and life. 

Now, go start designing a healthier you!

For great design based resources on decision making systems check out the Brains, Behavior and Design Group.


One Response to “Designing a Healthier You – Should You Take a Vacation or a Healthy ‘Staycation’? Take Some Vaykay!”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Plishka, Michael Plishka. Michael Plishka said: Designing a Healthier You – Should You Take a Vacation or a Healthy 'Staycation'? Take Some Vaykay!: http://wp.me/pkQcg-Af […]

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