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Seven steps to staying fit and healthy on your cruise

If you eat and drink your way through a week at sea, you might come home with some unwanted souvenirs prominently displayed on your hips, butt, belly, or thighs. You’ll be haunted by the old cruise adage that predicts a typical guest will gain one to two pounds per day on an average cruise vacation.

Cruise ships might offer plenty of opportunities to eat yourself sick, but they also provide many ways to stay fit and trim onboard. Use these seven tips on your next vacation, and you might return skinnier than you left.

1. Take the stairs

The no-brainer way to keep the pounds off on a cruise is to take the stairs. Mega-ships can have 10 to 15 decks, usually with the restaurant on deck four or five and the pool up at the top. On your daily treks between meals, activities, shows, and dates with a deck chair, skip the elevator and walk up on your own power. Not only will you be doing something smart for your heart, you’ll avoid long waits for the lift.

2. Stop by the gym…just to look

When you tour the ship on the first day, make it a point to find the gym. The state-of-the-art equipment, array of classes, and sea views may convince you that working out during your vacation could be fun. You’re not obligated to return, but if you know what’s available to you, you may be intrigued enough to try a workout on a sea day. If you never go, you won’t know what you’re missing.

3. Take a hike

Walking is an easy way to enjoy the ship and the ports-of-call. Plus, you’ll stay fit without hardly noticing. Many ships have promenade decks or jogging tracks where you can walk a complete circle around the ship. A brisk walk is a good way to get fresh air, enjoy the views, or have a tete-a-tete with your cruise companion. Most ships post signs telling how many circuits add up to a mile. On shore, explore port towns on foot rather than with a bus tour. You’ll have so much fun, you won’t notice that you’ve hoofed a few miles each day.

4. Make fitness fun

Working out onboard does not have to involve lifting weights or mind-numbing hours on a treadmill. Modern ships offer plenty of ways to keep fit while having fun. Sign up for a yoga or Pilates class, learn to ballroom or line dance, or climb an onboard rock wall. Dance the night away in the ship’s disco or spend a steamy afternoon swimming laps or treading water in the ship’s pool. The extra pounds you gained at the midnight buffet will melt away in no time.

5. Eat three meals a day

You can pig out all you want if you only eat three times a day. If you take advantage of every snacking opportunity from mid-morning munchies to afternoon tea to late-night treats at the bar, you’re sure to go up a dress size by the end of the trip. Try to keep to a regular schedule of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if you need some mid-afternoon fuel, grab an apple not an ice cream cone. Then if you want to order the lobster tail and the steak for dinner, go right ahead.

6. Order smart

Onboard restaurant menus can offer a whopping five courses—appetizer, soup, salad, entree, and dessert. While the waiters may raise their eyebrows, no one demands you order all five each night. If you choose wisely, you can eat all you want without gaining weight. Select only one or two first courses, or opt for one of the healthy or lighter menu items for your main course. Ask for sauce on the side or split a dessert with someone. You’ll enjoy your meal and won’t leave the table so stuffed you can hardly walk to the show lounge.

7. Limit your treats

No one wants you to become an ascetic on your vacation. Treat yourself to that chocolate sundae or umbrella drink—just don’t do it all the time. If you limit your indulgences, you’ll enjoy them more and continue to fit into your swimsuit. Skip dessert at lunchtime in order to dig in at dinner, or pass on that second glass of wine if you’d rather get ice cream later. And if you’ve spent the afternoon chugging beer by the pool, maybe you should think twice about showing up to the midnight buffet.

The key to staying fit onboard is balancing your indulgences with a little restraint or some enjoyable exercise. Try a few of these tips on your next cruise, and you’ll find you don’t have to give up a fun vacation to come home the same size you left.

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