None of us are getting any younger. So it’s important we keep ourselves fit, especially when we live on a sailboat.
Christine Pereira is a nurse and a future liveaboard with tips for staying fit after forty—even in the confines of a boat. You can find more of her advice for a healthy mid-life at FitnessAfter40withNurseChrisp.com
My husband Tony and I are boat owners and plan on being liveaboards within the next five years. We became enthralled with sailing after moving to the Texas coast. We initially joined a fractional sailing group to see if we liked it and, wow, did we ever. In 2015 we purchased Makin’ Do, our 40-foot Marlow Hunter.
Although we still have a home on terra firma about 10 minutes from the marina, we do spend weekends on the boat. Because I am an avid exerciser, I am already thinking about how I am going to maintain my fitness level when we are docked at our home marina or sailing to far off beautiful sailing destinations.
Why Fitness Is Vital For Sailors
Staying fit while you are a liveaboard or are sailing serves many purposes and will allow you to run your boat safely. Winch use, line pulling, maintenance, cleaning, and mast climbing all require healthy joints and strength. Maintaining a good fitness level will enable you to move around the boat more easily, and can reduce your risk of injury when you are sailing, working, boarding and living on your boat.
Maintaining health after 40 can be a challenge when you live in a house, have access to running trails and a gym available 24 hours. So how can you stay fit while sailing?
3 Types of Fitness
Fitness includes balance, strength, and flexibility. Balance will help you board the boat carrying provisions or walk on the boat while underway. Strength is important to ensure that you can respond quickly and safely to the commands of your situation and your captain. Flexibility is necessary because stooping and twisting are inevitable when living on sailboats.
Balance is important to prevent falls and other injuries, especially on a boat. To work on maintaining your sense of balance, perform this simple exercise inside of the boat:
Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips, bend at the knee and lift up one foot at a time. Do this initially with your eyes open, and then do it with eyes closed.
It may seem too simple, but you will see improvement quickly. It is the simplest balance activity to perform. Once this is easy, add a weight (like a can or jug of water), and hold it in the same had as the leg or opposite of the raised leg. Do this balance training until you can balance for at least a few minutes. What is fascinating about balance is that it returns very quickly if there are not any serious health conditions that are causing it to wane.
Strength maintenance might seem to bit trickier to maintain living aboard, but it is certainly possible. A rubber tube or exercise band is very small and lightweight and can be used for a variety of exercises.
Arm strength and leg strength are extremely important. You can maintain your arm strength using a rubber tube (like I have in the picture), or exercise band. This can be performed in the salon, or on deck.
For arm strength, step on the middle of the band holding the grips and bend elbows at 90 degrees, raise your hands to your shoulders (these are bicep curls), start out with 10 repetitions, with a goal of performing 20 repetitions for 3 sets.
To strengthen your shoulders, stay standing on the tube and raise your arms straight in front of you to shoulder height, start with 10 repetitions with a goal of performing 20 repetitions. Next, turn sideways in the saloon; start with arms down at your side, holding on to the grips, keeping the elbows straight raise your arms to shoulder height. Repeat 10 times, with a goal of performing 20 repetitions per session.
Leg strength can be maintained with squats. Many people avoid squats thinking that they will damage their knees, but this is incorrect IF squats are done properly. Squats strengthen the muscles around the knees resulting in stabilization of the knee joint. The saloon or on deck is a super place to perform squats.
To begin a squat exercise regimen, stand next to something and hold on to it, place feet at least shoulder width apart and bend your knees to 45 degrees. Repeat this 10 times, 2-3 times a day. When you no longer feel the thigh muscles burn, increase the number of squats with a goal of 25 repetitions. Increase the depth of the squat when it becomes easy. The goal is to squat with a 90-degree angle. Keep knees over toes. The goal is to be able to squat without support. I make it my goal to perform the number of repetitions as how old I am, that means I do MORE every year!
Core strength exercises can be done on the deck or in the saloon. Two of my favorite core strength exercises are the sit-up and push-ups. For the sit-ups, place a towel on the floor of the salon or deck for padding. Full sit-ups are not necessary if they are too difficult at first. If so, begin with small pulses with your arms at your side. Start out with 10-20 repetitions and increase as they become easy.
Push-ups are one of the best all-around exercises out there. Push-ups can be performed on the deck or in the saloon. If you have not performed push-ups recently, I suggest standing push-ups. These are performed with knees bent as well. Start out performing 10 repetitions and build from there.
Set a goal to perform the number of sets based on how old you. So if you are fifty, aim for fifty, then next year aim for fifty-one, then fifty-two. You get the idea. Start at a reasonable repetition number, like ten, and perform the chosen number of repetitions until you can easily perform them and then add five to each session. Once you reach your strength goal, maintenance is much easier than building. Strength/resistance training should be performed 2-3 times per week.
Flexibility workouts can also be performed without needing additional equipment and can be performed onboard. Flexibility means to be able to move your joints and muscles naturally. Motion is lotion for joints and stretching and flexibility will keep you limber. Flexibility of the back, neck, and shoulders are especially important for sailors.
The forward bend helps with back flexibility. Starting from standing bend forward at the waist and reach for your toes. Do this simple stretch 10 times a day. This is awesome for the hamstrings, the back, and the digestive system. You can also perform this while sitting.
To maintain the flexibility, move your head up and down, and side to side, and ear to shoulder on each side. Yup. That’s it. Perform these motions ten times each and do them daily.
Shoulder flexibility is important to maintain mobility. To stretch the shoulder use the cross arm stretch. This is performed by pulling your straight arm across the body while pulling your shoulder blade back; this one focuses on the rotator cuff. Hold it for 30 seconds and repeat three times. Arm circles bring blood and nutrients to the shoulder joints. Perform arm circles by raising your arms overhead and swinging them around in a circle. Do 10 arm circles per day.
An additional program that can be used for non-exercisers and exercisers is the Nitric Oxide Dump. It is one of my favorite routines; this is a series of four movements that provide amazing results in 16 minutes per day. This series is used to increase the production of nitric oxide, which has many positive effects on the body. It helps lower blood pressure and improves blood flow.
This exercise series must be performed only breathing through your nose. Do not breathe through your mouth. The four movements are squats, arm raises, arm swings, non-jumping jacks, and the shoulder press. Start with 10 repetitions of each exercise with a goal of 20 per each.
The only limitation to performing this movement routine is the ceiling height of the cabin. The series can easily be performed on the deck.
Staying Fit On A Boat
Staying fit and healthy while sailing does not have to be a burden or require additional equipment. It takes a desire and resourcefulness, and these are qualities that most sailors have. So consider developing a plan that includes activities to include balance, strength, and flexibility that fits your life, boat, and available equipment. Remember your boat needs you in the best physical condition that you can be in so you can continue to enjoy your enviable life as sailors.