Image: Florence, Italy
Florence is an outdoor museum. Start at the Piazza della Signoria where Michaelangelo's David is located outside Palazzo Vecchio. From there, walk toward the Uffizi, the main museum of Florence, toward the Arno River, which bisects the city. Cross the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, walk toward the Palazzo Pitti and enter the Giardino di Boboli, one of the best city gardens in Italy.
updated 8/7/2008 1:37:36 PM ET 2008-08-07T17:37:36

Do a Web search for "healthy vacation" and you'll get a smorgasbord of spas offering yoga at dawn, fruit- and fiber-rich menus aimed at shedding those "stubborn five pounds" and a host of meditation classes. You'll also find ads for group tours with hours-long walks through some of the world's most visited spots.

But there's more to a good-for-you getaway than watching what you eat and hiking along the Great Wall. Off-the-beaten-path destinations that inspire you to engage in physical activity and adopt healthy habits in an unpolluted environment are just as good for you. That's because they not only help you to keep trim but improve your cardiovascular health while you see a part of the world unexposed to hordes of tourists.

Guests at the Adirondak Loj, located in the High Peaks region of New York's Adirondack State Park, are only a short walk from the trail head of Mount Marcy, the state's highest peak. But don't expect to sleep late—the staff wakes visitors early for a hearty breakfast in the Loj's rustic dining room. After that, you're on your own; most guests clear out early to hit the trails.

As the number of physically fit baby boomers swells, they are leading a trend toward more active vacations.

"I do think 15, 20 years ago, it was much more just 'go sit on the beach,' " says Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of Deloitte's travel and hospitality practice. "These days, people are looking for more and more activities to do."

The outdoors enthusiast will find plenty in the Galapagos Islands. You may eat like a sea lion here, but you won't come back looking like one—with all the hiking and swimming you'll do, you won't need to hit the gym.

The area is 90 percent national park, and according to national park rules, a guide must accompany you everywhere and will likely choose your swimming and snorkeling locations based on how windy it is. Visiting these islands, roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, has become controversial lately, as some conservationists argue tourists are negatively impacting the wildlife.

Amrum, the tiny crescent-shaped island 18 miles off the coast of Germany, offers wide beaches and plenty of water sports and hiking. At low tide, tourists can walk between Amrum and its neighboring island Föhr , but be careful to follow the markers or you may not make it across before the tide comes back in.

The fresh, salty air and low pollen on Amrum are said to revive one's health as well as relieve asthma. Bikes are the best way to get around the island. Cars are allowed, but there's only one road.

Located in southwest New Mexico, the 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest is great for people who like serious outdoor activities. This remote area offers steep, rugged terrain and elevations ranging from 4,300 to 11,000 feet above sea level. There are opportunities to hike, camp, horseback ride or mountain bike.

While here, visit the Mogollon Indian ruins at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Archaeologists estimate the ruins are from the 13th and early 14th centuries. Travel 45 miles to south Silver City, a low-key alternative to Santa Fe, and pretend you're on an old Western movie set.

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If you're looking for a blend of outdoors and culture, the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, French territories off the cost of Newfoundland, Canada, offer both. Saint-Pierre, the more developed island, boasts several café- and restaurant-lined streets. Miquelon, which is less populated, has miles of trails and beaches. To get to the islands, most visitors take the ferry from Fortune, Newfoundland.

Top tips
Already booked your end-of-summer excursion? Most vacations can be made healthier with some planning.

"Ask yourself, 'Is there opportunity each day for ambulatory exercise?'" says Dr. Richard Stein, professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center and director of the university's Urban Community Cardiology Program. "If you can walk and do interesting things, that's great. I love vacations where you go to a place that lends itself to a lot of walking. Florence, for example. You can walk the entire city."

In fact, walking is the best way to get around Florence. Most landmarks are accessible from the city center and one-way streets and with steep traffic fines make driving around the city an unenviable task for guests.

But if you plan to be physically active on your trip, make sure you get in shape for it beforehand.

Image: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
You may eat like a sea lion in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, but you won't come back looking like one. That's because with all the hiking and swimming you'll do here, you won't need to hit the gym. The area is 90 percent national park, and according to the rules, a guide must accompany you everywhere.
This is especially important if vacationers are involved in group activities. "It's no fun to be the odd duck in a bunch of people who are fitness enthusiasts and you can't keep up," says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Think about what the community activities are. If you can't do something, don't do it, but find something alternative to do."

This is important because stress is the last thing travelers need on vacation.

"If a vacation is more stressful than relaxing," says Stein, "you are not going to get many psychological or social benefits from it. Don't have a lot of things to check off and don't over-plan. Consider whether that third child might be better off with the grandparents."

And if you're watching what you eat in an effort to stay healthy, do so with caution. Many people who start vacations worried about dieting end up overindulging and gaining weight.

"Your trip should give you opportunities for healthy eating combined with unusual food," says Stein. "Don't ignore the fact that you're in the South of France."

Finally, be wary of taking trips for the sole purpose of not doing something.

"If you start with a negative," Stein says, "that's not going to be the best vacation for your heart and your mind."

© 2012


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