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Beach bodies: Vacations aren't just for relaxing anymore as beachgoers exercise and eat healthy

InnerFit Barre and Dance Fitness in Nags Head, N.C., has seen an increase in vacationer exercising.
InnerFit Barre and Dance Fitness in Nags Head, N.C., has seen an increase in vacationer exercising. (KChik Photography / HANDOUT)

A decade ago, when Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro opened in Rehoboth Beach, Del., its arrival was met with some skepticism.

"Some people were like, are you nuts? Who's going to drink all this juice?" said Green Man co-owner Rachel Bullock-Brockway. "But it worked. We've been so fortunate — we have the same people returning for the past 10 years and the customer base has grown."

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Though swimming and other water sports have always been key elements of beach vacations, so have gluttonous eating habits and slacking in terms of regular exercise routines. But in recent years, beachgoers have been taking steps to stay healthy while away from home. They're eating cleaner, trying new sports and seeking out ways to stick to their fitness routines.

As vacationers' fitness needs have grown, business owners have stepped up, opening juice bars like Green Man, natural markets, yoga studios, gyms and other businesses that promote a healthy lifestyle.

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Andrea Johnston, owner of InnerFit Barre and Dance Fitness, a barre and yoga studio in Nags Head, N.C., has seen an increase in vacationer exercising.

"I've been doing this for six years and more and more, I'm seeing people continuing their exercise program here," she said. "I see people running. The studio is packed over the summer with people trying to keep up with what they're doing where they live."

People are doing more than exercising, too. In Ocean City, OC Organics co-owner Skip Moore has observed a similar shift in eating habits.

"Years ago, there was not much of a market for healthy eating vendors. But now, we have customers come in every day that have found us online looking for healthier options than funnel cakes and french fries," he said.

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Staying healthy on vacation has numerous benefits, from providing peace of mind to justifying vacation splurges.

Ignite Yoga in Rehoboth specializes in hot vinyasa yoga.
Ignite Yoga in Rehoboth specializes in hot vinyasa yoga. (Courtesy of Ignite Yoga)

Missy Radcliffe, owner of Ignite Yoga, a studio in Rehoboth specializing in hot vinyasa yoga, said that after she opened her studio last year, visitors told her they were thankful they could keep up with at least part of their normal fitness routine while away.

"There was a sense of relief and people saying we want this type of workout when we're on vacation, so we can enjoy it," she said. "It gives them the opportunity to find balance between splurging and drinking and detoxing, so they can stay on track."

Grant Golin, co-owner of Crossfit by the Sea in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J., agrees, pointing out that healthy living is good for the body and the mind.

"It definitely gives you peace of mind," he said. "You can keep control, even on vacation. It's just better for your health and makes vacation more enjoyable."

People simply feel better after working out, said Jack Hannigan, owner of Jack's Surf Lessons and Board Rentals, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., company that offers surf, stand-up paddleboard and kayaking lessons as well as rentals.

"It really helps you relax because it's good cardio and afterward, you think, 'I can just sit on the beach and drink a margarita.' It's good for your body — it's work, but it's fun," he said.

Taking time to exercise while on vacation has a hidden benefit for people traveling with large groups, Johnston said.

"In the Outer Banks, we have these huge houses. People come in and say, 'I've been stuck with 45 of my family members and needed to get out of the house,'" she said.

Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro in Rehoboth opened up a decade ago.
Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro in Rehoboth opened up a decade ago. (HANDOUT)

Serious proponents of clean lifestyles acknowledge that when on vacation, taking a looser approach to fitness and eating right makes sense.

"People like a mix. That's a great way to vacation," said Logan Willey, owner of Real Raw Organics Kombucha Brewery & Café in Ocean City. "Boardwalk fries and a milkshake at Dumser's — you don't need to cut that out. Maybe treat yourself to caramel corn, but have a healthy lunch. It's not about restriction, it's about balance."

Healthy vacation proponents believe that recent interest in staying fit while on vacation is part of a broad shift toward overall wellness. International statistics confirm this: The Global Wellness Institute reports that "wellness tourism" was one of the fastest growing segments of the travel market, with revenues growing by 14 percent from 2013 to 2015.

"I think it's a huge sign of how we're shifting as a whole," said Johnston. "We're eating better, exercising, doing yoga, practicing relaxation skills and mindfulness."

Bullock-Brockway noted that the lifestyle communities that crop up via social media also play a role in people making healthier decisions, even when on vacation.

"I think the internet plays into it. Now, sharing what you're eating is such a huge thing on social media. You're part of your tribe and you're not going to leave it for a weekend or a week. It's a lifestyle," she said.

Business owners say vacationers interested in continuing their fitness routines and healthy eating at the beach can contact studios, gyms and health food stores before arriving.

"I have many people who contact me via phone," said Johnston. "I talk to them about what to expect. I love to get to know the person before they come in."

Johnston says that during the summer, her classes are a mix of locals and tourists, which makes for a fun combination.

"We're so open, welcome and loving," she said. "We support the tourists — they keep us surviving here at the beach. The more, the merrier!"

Golin agrees, saying his community is happy to welcome newcomers.

"Just be friendly and have an open mind and have a good time," he said. "You're on vacation, right?"

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