Vacation Learning: Swim for Your Supper

I started something new on our annual family vacation this year. It’s a twist on the old idea of singing for your supper, but in our case, we could swim, cycle, run, exercise, play some tennis or other fun sport for the privilege of family dinner, oh and lunch, too. I started it when I noticed that my husband was regularly riding his bicycle for 60-90 minutes most mornings, swimming nearly a mile each afternoon, and then happily playing tennis with me or friendly mixed doubles, as well. Competitive person that I am, I started adding to my ‘sacred’ daily morning run with a bike ride to the tennis courts (that put me at 3 activities) and even occasionally joining him on his swim. Soon I noticed that I was sometimes doing up to four ‘units’ of sports and exercise some days.

And then the gamificaton kicked in. No app, real prizes but our family of four started plotting each day what each of us would do to add at least 2 types of fun sport or exercise. Funnily, it was catchy and fulfilling, not a chore; and it had the built-in reward of causing us to look forward to eating well at lunch and dinnertime too, which is another big event on our family vacations. NOTE: I don’t recommend this for families with children under the age of 16; you’ll have to dial it way down to keep most kids engaged in this.

What happened to getting away to lie on the beach and read all day, thinking about what kind of sandwich to pack for lunch and occasionally taking a brief dip to cool off?

WOW! We were doing more, sleeping better, eating more healthfully- wouldn’t want the customary beach potato chips and cookies to weigh us down on our afternoon swim! We still had reading and beach time but we were shifting our focus, or broadened our focus, to more squarely include physical fitness – both in regular exercise and sports.

Jane Brody wrote this week in the NYT article “Changing Our Tune About Exercise” that successfully incorporating exercise into one’s life has more to do with setting it up to provide fulfillment in the short term, than insurance against chronic disease in the long term. And this makes sense- focus on the fun, the social aspects, and the immediate restorative benefits- this makes it a much faster pay off than sweating to prevent something that happens slowly over a very long period of time.


  1. You get one meal on the house each day.
  2. Choose one 30-minute activity (one unit) for each successive meal you want to eat this day.
  3. If you do more than three units of activity – have an ice cream cone, because after all, you’re on vacation!

I’m not sure we can bring this back to our daily lives during the work week, but it certainly creates the opportunity to get into a weekend groove of three units/per day. Maybe 5 units this weekend will entitle me to dinner each night next week! And if I fall short? Well, maybe I’ll have to forfeit my Starbucks latte…..