In the first instalment of our new series, we ask health experts Dr Chris Reeves (Osteopath) and Tanya Rudd (Personal Trainer) about their tips and advice for preparing your body for your next road trip.
Caravan World (CW): Welcome to Caravan World Chris and Tanya, tell us a little about your caravanning experience!
CHRIS: Hey, fellow caravanners! I love nothing more than chasing the sun, surf and sand with my family, and we've been fortunate enough to explore the majority of the Australian eastern seaboard — Tasmania and Western Australia are still beckoning.
TANYA: Well, having caravanned our way around Australia, we just love being in the outdoors, and exploring new places. We aim to get away as a family in the van for most long weekends and over holiday periods. Australia has some stunning landmarks, and such a diverse landscape — it’s really hard to believe its beauty, right in our own backyard!
CW: What are the most important things to consider before you head away on a caravan or camping trip?
CHRIS: Apart from the obvious safety items and checks for both vehicle and van, it's important that you spare a second packing some items that could come in handy for both you and your family’s health and wellbeing. Think of this as your 'First Aid Fitness Kit'.
TANYA: I definitely like to think ahead about what my exercise routine will entail whilst on the road. Often, I enjoy enough activity outdoors — hello hiking, riding, surfing, walking, kayaking and swimming. If none of those are in the plan, there are definitely some basic items to consider packing to ensure you keep yourself mobile and active.
CW: Are there exercises you should be doing before you head off?
TANYA: Absolutely, especially if you will be sitting in the car for long periods — this can leave you feeling lethargic and achy. It’s a good idea to get some movement and get the blood circulating around your body. Even some basic yoga moves might help, for example camel pose or warrior, or try simple stretches or movements like a standing quad stretch and some neck rolls.
CHRIS: Now, this doesn't need to be a Jane Fonda type workout, but simply some basic movement patterns performed in a dynamic way, to wake up your whole body, improve circulation and have you ‘switched on’ before the amazing trip that lies ahead. Examples could be some shoulder rolls/shrugs, opening and closing the hands whilst giving them a good shake, and marching on the spot for 30 seconds.
CW: What equipment do you need to make sure you take with you?
CHRIS: So what to pack in your ‘Fitness First Aid Kit’? A yoga mat, small foam roller, some exercise resistance bands, a spiky massage ball, strapping tapes and heat creams. Even stick on heat patches can be handy inclusions for your trip. I would recommend having easy access to the spiky ball and heat patches within your vehicle, as they can come in handy whilst in transit.
TANYA: Personally, I like to take my glute loop band, skipping rope, and a theraband. All of them are lightweight and small so they are easy to store and don’t take up much space, and all are great for assisting with easy workouts. If you're looking to take the bare minimum, I would prioritise bringing the theraband because of its versatility.
CW: What type of stories are you trying to avoid by preparing properly for your trip?
TANYA: Muscle strains are common injuries that can be avoided. Simple tasks like reaching into overhead cupboards, lifting spring loaded beds or twisting within the small van space can end in injury if you’re not keeping your body active.
CHRIS: I cringe when I treat a patient who has returned from a trip with a crook back, because they attempted to unhitch the trailer after a long stint on the road, and were simply stiff or restricted and, in effect, ill-prepared for the lifting effort. Driving whilst in pain is not fun, is certainly not safe, and could very well have been avoided with some ‘loosening up’ exercises and correct lifting technique.
CW: Once you are on the road, is it too late to keep on top of your physical heath?
TANYA: Definitely not. Even if you have not packed any equipment, and you are looking for something low impact or low intensity, simply walking for 20–30 minutes each day can be beneficial. Some towns even have outdoor, public exercise equipment which you can utilise with some simple movements.
Don’t forget that exercise is just as important for mental health is it is for our physical health. When our heart rate increases, our body releases the happy hormones, endorphins. Not to mention the benefits we get from vitamin D, such as assisting with proper absorption of minerals, bone health and management of blood sugar levels, just to name a few.
CHRIS: If you include in your preparation some appropriate fitness gear, you'll be well set to keep sensibly active and get the most out of the great outdoors. And for the ‘tech savvy’ traveller, there are some great fitness apps you can download, and even smartwatches that can guide you through movement classes, like yoga and pilates.
CW: What’s your favourite camping story about staying healthy?
TANYA: On the Australia Day break for the past six years we have camped on the foreshore of the lovely Victorian coastal town of Inverloch. We have accumulated extra campers over the years and this year we had five families camping together. It has become tradition that we walk into the public recreation reserve on the fringe of town and do some exercise. This year, all our fellow campers wanted to join in the exercise session, so I hosted a group Tabata session for 12 people which was really fun.
CHRIS: I would have to say anything to integrate a little bit of family or friendly rivalry! An afternoon session of backyard cricket, parents versus kids comes to mind, or perhaps who can boogie board or body surf the longest wave.
CW: If you are out and about and you become injured, what should you do? Are there any telehealth type services available?
CHRIS: If you’re fortunate enough to have cellular coverage where you are, there are several options to assist with your injury triage and management. For example, Nurse on Call or contacting 000 or the nearest ER or GP clinic would be the first port of call in emergency situations. In the case of a non-life-threatening musculoskeletal issue, telehealth appointments can be arranged with allied professionals like an osteo or physio.
CW: Weight is obviously a consideration when loading your caravan, so how do you prepare to keep active without bringing all your gym equipment?
TANYA: My three favourite items are super light, and small in size so there is no worry with how much space they are taking up or where to store them. You can also use nature as your gym — think walking. For example you can walk on a regular surface, like a path or road, or you can look to change the modality to increase the difficulty and try walking up hills or on sand — this will become more challenging.
CHRIS: One of the most practical, compact, lightweight and versatile pieces of equipment you can take with you on your trip is a couple of lengths of resistance exercise bands. Different colours designate different levels of resistance, and with a little bit of knowledge you can give your whole body a thorough work out.
The other secret weapon that you're already packing is your own body weight — push ups, squats, tricep dips and planks are just a few examples of body-weighted exercises you can do.
CW: What equipment would you recommend to always take with you? What are your must-haves?
CHRIS: I'd be sure to pack a yoga/exercise mat that can be easily rolled up, in order to give you a comfortable platform to work from. A length of resistance exercise band (or tubing) takes up next to no room in your van and is extremely versatile as well.
TANYA: For me, I like to get my heart rate up, so my skipping rope is definitely a must have. Extra items I would recommend are rubber tube bands with handles, or therabands. They are really effective at working all muscles in the body, and they can be done anywhere. I would also consider a smart fit watch like a Garmin, as they are easy to use and they can track your activity level. Some can also offer pre-loaded workouts which are easy to follow.
CW: Can you use your caravan or camping equipment as part of your equipment?
CHRIS: You sure can! You can use the step leading up to the van to do some calf raises and stretches, some lunges and even hamstring stretching. You can also attach suspension training gear (like TRX) to the outside of the van (ie, annexe framework) to perform body weighted resistance workouts.
TANYA: Yes, of course! For example, you might use the A-frame for some incline push ups or dips, or you can use your entry step for some simple low impact step-ups. Get creative!
CW: Thinking about the lifting you do in and around the caravan, do specific exercises help prevent injury for those specific actions?
TANYA: I think generally speaking it’s good to keep the body moving daily if possible. The more we move, the greater the chance of reducing the risk of muscle atrophy. This is where we lose muscle mass due to a combination of ageing and inactivity. I like to think of the ‘Move it or lose it’ phrase. If we aren’t going to be using our muscles, then sadly, they start to diminish.
CHRIS: There is not really one specific exercise you should be doing when it comes to lifting and injury prevention. What I would more remind you to think of is the catchphrase ‘Motion is Lotion’ and try to replicate movement patterns that you can commit to frequently, in order to maintain body conditioning, specific to that task.
CW: Thanks so much for your time Chris and Tanya. We hope to see you out on the road soon and look forward to more tips from you both in the future as part of the Active Nomad project.
Make sure you check out the video at caravan.hemax.com where you can see some more practical examples of setting up your van for keeping fit and healthy and if you have any suggestions or requests, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.