Away from home? You can still flex your muscles Workouts: Get with the program, wherever you are, by finding fitness centers in or near your hotel.

July 21, 1996|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

R. C. Staab never leaves home without the Card -- not a credit card, but his YMCA membership I.D. Staab's card bears a sticker for the athletic club's AWAY program, (an acronym for Always Welcome at the Y), which admits the 39-year-old Philadelphia publicist to most YMCA fitness facilities throughout North America and several foreign countries.

"Staying fit is vital for my mental and physical health and it helps me do my job better, so I make exercise a priority when I'm on the road," says Staab, who estimates he has worked out at 65 Y's around the United States and at facilities in London, Dublin, Toronto and Montreal.

"If I go a week without exercise," he says, "I go into a kind of depression and I'm not as sharp in my business dealings, so when I travel, I'm more concerned with finding a good place to work out than to eat."

Staab is typical of traveling business people (as well as many vacationers) who believe that incorporating exercise into their trips helps keep them at the top of their game and combats the debilitating effects of long hours in planes or cars, jet lag, heavy -- meals, diverse climates and altitudes and other travel stresses.

"Exercise is the single biggest step we can take to feel better under the pressures of travel and doing business away from home," says Bill Haverland, a former corporate financial executive who had so much trouble finding good places to swim laps during business trips that he finally wrote his own book on the subject: "Swimmers Guide: Directory of Pools for Fitness Swimmers" ($16.95, ALSA Publishing Inc., [800] 352-6657).

"You sleep better, perform better and tend to eat and drink healthier if you're in sync with your body, yet many travelers drop their normal fitness routine exactly when they most need its energizing effects," says Haverland, whose guide lists 3,300 hotels, private clubs and public pools that admit visitors for free or at a day rate.

Unlike most vacation travelers, a business traveler's personal time is at a premium, so exercise options need to be readily available with no hassles. Increasingly, reports the American Hotel and Motel Association, business travelers are choosing hotels at least partly on the basis of their fitness facilities (or courtesy arrangements with nearby private gyms) or their proximity to walking or jogging trails.

The association estimates that about 40 percent of U.S. hotels have some kind of fitness facility, with more properties adding or updating exercise equipment each year.

Use your imagination

Business travelers are finding other innovative solutions for working out on the go:

Most cities have fitness clubs that welcome drop-ins for a fee. Check the Yellow Pages for listings or ask the hotel concierge for suggestions.

In New York, for example, World Gym's Lincoln Square and Greenwich Village clubs offer day-passes for $17 and $15 respectively. Show a room key from any New York City hotel and you get $5 off at either location. In Beverly Hills, take a class at diet-and-exercise guru Richard Simmons' Slimmons exercise studio, where $10 buys you a vigorous workout -- often led by Simmons himself when he isn't traveling.

A good sourcebook is "Working Out on the Road: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to Health Clubs in 25 U.S. Cities," by Jim Morelli ($11.95, Hunter Publishing; [908] 225-1900).

Got a longish layover at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or Chicago O'Hare? Take the free five-minute shuttle bus to the Hyatt airport hotel at either location and you can use the hotel's gym and pool for a mere $5 in Dallas, $10 in Chicago.

The health club at O'Hare's Westin Hotel charges $7 for drop-ins who show their airline ticket. At San Francisco International Airport, take the free two-mile shuttle bus to the Westin airport hotel and cross the street to a gorgeous jogging trail along San Francisco Bay.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina provides a three-mile outdoor landscaped walking trail, and at Houston Intercontinental Airport, passengers can hike three miles of subterranean tunnels connecting the terminals.

At other airports, stash your carry-on gear in a locker and use the airport corridors as an indoor walking track, logging as many laps as time permits.

Instead of holding a business discussion (particularly one that is predominantly social in nature) over lunch or drinks, propose a walking chat at a nearby park or along a quiet street.

Bad weather? Take to adjacent exercise machines in the hotel fitness center. This approach gets in an aerobic workout, cuts down on opportunities to eat and drink too much and may build a bond beyond the usual business-lunch superficialities.

If you anticipate a chunk of free time, check local newspapers or magazines at your destination for scheduled hikes or other outdoor excursions -- especially if your visit includes a weekend. Most cities have Sierra Club or other outdoor recreation programs as well as local walking and/or cycling tours designed to get residents and visitors out and about.

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