Alberta Cancer Foundation

Ask the Expert: Knowledge is Power


Q: How do you maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle while on vacation or travelling?

Dr. Lisa Belanger, health behaviour specialist and co-author of Inspire Me Well: Finding Motivation to Take Control of Your Health, says you don’t have to sidetrack your fitness routine when you’re not at home. “There are certain prompting cues from your environment that make those health behaviours easier. For example, if you have a routine that you go to the gym every morning, make sure your gym bag is packed and it’s by the door. There’s a series of events that happen to get you there – but as soon as you are taken out of that environment, for example if you’re travelling, it makes it more challenging. It does take planning.” To that end, she advises making sure to bring your running shoes and clothes, since if you don’t have your gear you are not likely to go out of your way to buy new ones on your trip.

She also suggests scouting out where you will be staying to see what amenities can help you maintain your fitness routine, such as running trails, a pool or gym in the hotel or even a fitness club that allows drop-ins. “Ask somebody about those running routes, like the concierge of the hotel. Normally hotels will provide you with information about safe running routes.” For those who prefer yoga, Belanger suggests accessing workouts via YouTube videos or other online sources, and practising in your hotel room. “There are several videos that come up that are fantastic to use, especially if there are not gyms close by or running may not be an option. It’s a way to de-stress as well.”

And what you put in your mouth is also a consideration, so planning what you will eat is an important step toward maintaining your healthy routine. “I always travel with snacks because if I get too hungry I get ‘hangry.’ The best things that I have found so far that don’t freeze or melt are packs of mixed nuts and seeds. I always have that on-hand, and my husband makes our granola bars so we bring those, too. I started being creative with what I could bring or get at a grocery store, or asking instead ‘where is the grocery store?’”

Since most people eat out for nearly every meal when they travel, often that means also consuming unhealthy food options like the popular but dangerous all-you-can eat buffet. “At those all-inclusive resorts, I think a lot of people take it as a challenge, but there are healthy ways to eat at those things too,” notes Belanger. “They provide a lot of fruit and seafood options. And when you have the option of them preparing it in front of you, you can also ask for low- or no-salt options, but you have to ask. A lot of restaurants are becoming adept to vegan options, vegetarian options, low-sugar options. And so they are adapting to requests and you can absolutely make those as you go.”

Q: What are the benefits of taking aspirin as part of heart attack and stroke prevention? How much should I take and when should I start?

The short answer is that, if you’re healthy, you shouldn’t worry about taking aspirin every day as a preventative measure. But for those at risk of heart disease, studies have shown that taking aspirin can become part of a necessary regimen for preventing heart attacks and strokes.

According to Gary Lopaschuk, a cardiovascular researcher at the University of Alberta’s Cardiovascular Research Centre, aspirin prevents blood clot formation and has anti-inflammatory actions. Studies have even shown that during a suspected heart attack, chewing an aspirin tablet can help lessen heart attack severity (this should only be done after calling 911). “Aspirin therapy should not be initiated without first consulting your physician, who can help assess the risks and benefits of aspirin therapy,” he says. Your doctor can recommend the right dose of aspirin to use, ranging from 81 mg to 325 mg of aspirin per day, the latter being the typical dose of an aspirin tablet given for headaches and to relieve pain.

People having a suspected stroke should not take aspirin, since some strokes are caused by bleeding into the brain, which would be worsened by the pill. Which brings Lopaschuk to note: “The potentially harmful side effects of taking aspirin outweigh any beneficial effects in healthy patients without major risk factors for heart disease.” So if you don’t have heart disease, you shouldn’t take aspirin as a preventative measure.

Q: I am training for a half-marathon. What can I do to avoid getting injured along the way?

Craig Brososky, physiotherapist and owner of WePhysio Performance & Wellness in Edmonton says it comes down to three factors when trying to avoid injury: manage your training volume, get strong and move well. This is especially true for women, who are more likely to get injured than their male counterparts. More women participate in half marathons than men, at a rate of about 60 per cent women to 40 per cent men. Overall, strength training is the best way to increase training capacity, but “Controlling training volume or load is the number one way to prevent injury,” says Brososky.

He suggests running more frequently for shorter distances, rather than trying to pack in a 20-kilometre stretch all at once for a novice runner. “Injury prevention requires a few components. Number one is load management. Progress the training volume only as your body gets used to it. Don’t be a slave to the program in the book – it’s only math, and it’s not a program designed for your body. It’s actually a program designed for nobody,” he adds.

Beyond strength and load management, the final way to protect your body against injury while training is to move well, he says. “Running is actually a fairly skillful movement. The good news is we can definitely improve our skill level.” Speed and running drills can help perfect your stride.

Ask our experts questions about general health, cancer prevention and treatment. Please submit them via email to Remember, this advice is never a substitute for talking directly to your family doctor.