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Keeping fit on a cruise

Lesley Bellew / 18 July 2016

Hints and tips on how to keep fit on a cruise and avoid weight gain - even when surrounded by amazing cuisine and lazy sea days.

Keeping fit on a cruise
There are lots of ways to stay fit on a cruise - from exercise classes to walking around the top deck.

You can come home much fitter and healthier after a cruise –  forget the rush to work, being crushed on the commuter train, sitting hour upon hour at a computer screen and spend time looking after your well-being. 

The great advantage of being on a cruise is that you have experts and crew to help you every step of the way.

Within a week or two of healthy eating, exercise and fresh air you will return a new person, relaxed and settled into a routine with the will to keep up the active lifestyle.

Walk a mile on a Cruise

Taking a brisk walk around the ship a few times, often called Walk a Mile, is a satisfying occupation before breakfast. Build up an appetite to eat fresh fruit, home-made yoghurt, honey, nuts and muesli. Pile into vitamin strawberries, raspberries and blueberries as well as the exotic variety of fruit that will reflect your destinations.

Don’t think you have to miss out on a cooked breakfast. Order an omelette for some slow-release protein, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon or kippers for an omega boost.

Somehow working out in a gym while watching the sea going makes exercise so much easier and ship’s instructors are always on hand to advise or customise a fitness plan. Ask for a daily programme to tone up and build strength, mentally and physically, to carry on the routine after returning home.

Gym & Yoga classes on-board

Pilates and yoga classes for all levels are a good way to start the day with the added benefit of socialising with other passengers. Some ships make a charge, others include classes in the cruise price, so it is best check – and book early.

Spinning and TRX classes are also popular and don’t be put off by thinking you will need experience, tell the instructor you would like to give it a whirl and they will offer every opportunity to enjoy a new challenge. A new, healthy hobby could be the best souvenir to take home.

Walking tours

Book tours that include walks to your level. Experienced walkers can opt for hikes to glaciers in Norway or volcanoes in the Canary Islands but there are always gentler options. In St Peter Port, Guernsey, just stroll into town following pedestrian-friendly signs showing the times and distance to attractions, or in Copenhagen wander along the quayside to see the Royal Palace and other attractions. It’s surprising how much easier it is to build up walking steps when visiting interesting places.

As a guideline, aim for 10,000 steps a day if you are in general good health. You can monitor this free on an iPhone Health App or on a number of fitness gadgets such as wristbands with activity trackers. It is actually very satisfying to watch your progress and although it’s probably obvious, if the ship does not have too many decks, always take the stairs.

Walk to town from the port

Forget the ship’s shuttlebus when you're near enough to walk into a town or city. You’ll get to see more and it is surprising how much ground can be covered when wandering in the rabbit-warren lanes of Venice and Barcelona or along the promenade in Deauville.

Oslo, Stavanger and Bergen, in Norway, are all walkable from the cruise port, so too are Hamburg, in Germany, Palma in Mallorca and Bordeaux in France, to name a few. In the UK, Falmouth and Dartmouth are particularly pretty towns that can easily be reached from the port.

Ship’s walking tours will range from moderate to strenuous with challenging ascents and descents so be sure to choose an itinerary that matches your capabilities, as it is no fun having to keep waiting for everyone else – or vice-versa!

Nordic Walking & Rambling

Nordic walking has also become popular sport so take your own poles if you have them, or borrow a pair on an excursion. Guests with knee problems will find this low-impact exercise conducive to their fitness programme.

Some cruise lines have links with walking and ramblers’ groups so it is worth asking if there is an opportunity to join a group and again, it makes for a more social cruise.

Equally sociable are the daily deck games on board – choose from quoits to shuffleboard and table tennis – all another right step in the direction for keeping active.

Swimming on-board

Swim in the sea or in the ship’s pool as it is one of the finest all-round forms of exercise. Even just ‘playing’ in the water will gently tone muscles. Non-swimmers will be pleased to know there are qualified swim trainers and/or a pool guard on hand who could help teach those first strokes. It is never too late to learn but even if you do not feel up to that, relaxing in a hot tub or spa pool is no bad thing.

Cruise ship pools are usually quieter first thing or around cocktail time – and by the evening the water will have been nicely warmed by the sun.

Healthy eating on a cruise

Healthy eating at lunchtime is easy, especially when the sun’s shining and you can sit outside to enjoy a barbecue with a multitude of salad choices and perhaps treat yourself to glass of wine – after all, it is your holiday and you can work of it off later. Try to match one glass of water with each alcoholic drink to keep hydrated.

Fish is often bought in port so it is freshly cooked and always seems to taste much nicer when you are at sea. It’s always good to eat food that you rarely get round to eating at home or always wanted to try - now’s your chance!

There’s no need to miss out on desserts because there are plenty of sugar-free and dairy-free options and a myriad of tempting fruit. If you can’t resist a naughty but nice treat every now and again it will not matter if you have upped the exercise routine.

Guest speakers and celebrity chefs give lectures on everything from gluten-free cooking to healthy eating and regional specialties so eating well is par for the course. Check out if the chef will be going ashore to a local market with guests as its great fun to buy fresh produce and have it cooked for you on the same evening.

Ballroom, Salsa, Jive, Zumba...

Dance sessions, including ballroom, Latin, jive, Salsa, Zumba and disco –  are an important activity on almost all cruise ships. Practice steps during daytime classes and in the evening show off your new skills on the dance floor. Dance hosts are on board to ensure everybody gets up on their feet and to bring confidence to those who are not quite so sure about making the first move.

Activities after exercise on a cruise

After a work-out in the gym or an exercise class, head for the spa and sauna or steam room or maybe consider a massage or relaxing aromatherapy treatment. Experienced therapists can magic away aches, stresses or strains.

For some serious pampering opt for a facial – the better you look, the better you will feel. Ask for tips and techniques to plump or sculpt the skin and continue the routine once you are home.

Many ships have bicycles on board or include cycling tour for all levels. Beginners will love pedaling along the riverside in Bordeaux or cycling down the mountain in Flam, Norway. If you are already a jogger just go for a run – Monte Carlo or Nice, for example, could be very enticing!

Boat and beach excursions are always on sunshine itineraries. Try snorkeling or scuba dives - from the Mediterranean to far-flung tropical destinations, cruise excursion teams arrange trips with qualified dive companies or have their own experts on board.

Sail on a small boat and the instructors explain to beginners how to use breathing equipment and flippers so when the anchor is dropped it’s just a case of stepping off into the crystal water. Swim among colourful fish and corals to discover a fabulous underwater world. It is an exhilarating experience and you will be exercising without even thinking about it.

What could be better?

Thinking of booking a  cruise? Find your ideal voyage with Saga.

Browse our huge collection of holidays and cruises, including adventurous touring trips, relaxing beachfront getaways and luxury ocean cruises. Find out more here


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.