It can seem impossible to eat healthy and exercise during the holiday season. Although most Americans gain only 1–2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, some can gain 5–7 pounds and then struggle all year trying to lose these extra pounds. Even if only a few pounds are added each year, they can have an impact on our short- and long-term health.
One of the best ways to prevent holiday weight gain is to stay physically active. Exercise helps to counterbalance the inevitable added calorie intake. There are also additional benefits. Exercise boosts our energy levels and helps to reduce the stress and anxiety that may often coincide with the season.
Travel, family gatherings, and other commitments can make it challenging to fit in physical activity, but they do not make it impossible. Let's be honest, exercise is always the first thing to go when we get busy. Here are some tips on how to stay active during the holidays:
Holiday time or not, planning ahead is one of the best ways to stay consistent with a fitness routine. Though it can feel challenging with the unpredictability of your holiday schedule, try to plan workouts ahead of time and put them on your calendar. Research prior to heading out of town where the local trails and parks are, as well as local gyms (many offer reasonable day pass rates for non-members and guests). There is also an app called MindBody where you can research local gyms/activities if you are away from home. By taking the time to plan ahead, you are making a commitment to yourself to be active—making it much more likely that you will follow through than if you try to fit it in later.
FOLLOW THE 10- TO 20-MINUTE RULE
Regardless of planning, you will likely not have as much time for your workouts. The key is to plan for some shorter (10–20 minute) workouts. Remember, something is better than nothing at all. Running, jogging and walking are always do-able for short bouts, as are body weight circuits for strength training. If you want the most bang for your buck, consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. By alternating between periods of maximum effort and short recovery, these condensed but intense workouts get your heart rate and metabolism revving to burn calories and fat. HIIT workouts generally only use your own body weight, so they can be done just about anywhere, without any equipment. You can find many 30-minute or less HIIT workouts on the internet or even Pinterest.
There are many ways we can fit in physical activity without a formal exercise routine. There are the old standbys of parking your car further out, taking extra laps at the mall, and using the stairs whenever possible. In addition, you can use all that time prepping holiday meals in the kitchen to throw in some squats, calf raises, and even dancing. Airport delays can go by much quicker by walking through the concourse rather than sitting in the terminal waiting area. Volunteer to help with housework, shoveling snow, or raking leaves. While everyone is sitting around watching football, do some wall sits, leg extensions, sit-ups, or push-ups. Better yet, get the family in on the action.
MAKE IT A FAMILY ACTIVITY
Speaking of family, invite family members to join along for a walk, run, or other workout. They might be thinking they want to, but need someone else to step up first. Alternatively, typically inactive family members might be inspired to be active through your example and having someone they care about to share it with. If you are spending time with children, organize a game of football, tag, or hide-and-seek. Even playing with a toddler and chasing them around the house can get your heart rate going.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASON
The holiday season is full of community races and “fun runs.” Thanksgiving and Christmas in most places offer a Turkey Trot and Jingle Bell Run. These races are generally 5Ks (3.1 miles) or 1-milers that are not super competitive and include many walkers. Plus, you often get a souvenir t-shirt that will bring back fond memories of that time with family. If your city/town does not have an organized fun run, consider arranging your own informal one with family and friends.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION …
It is common to go into the holiday season expecting the entire 1–2 months to be a wash. The key is to indulge for a day (or two or three), but not the entire season. Be mindful of your physical needs and desires. In other words, do not eat just to eat because there is food in front of you. Eat because you are hungry or you consciously make the decision that you want to eat and enjoy something. If at any point you feel overly tempted but do not actually want to eat, this is a great time to take a walk. Similarly with exercise, plan to at least fit in 3–4 workouts a week so that even if you miss some, you have not gone an entire month without being active.
… EVEN MODERATION
The holidays are a time to recharge and spend quality time with family and friends. Don’t stress so much about fitting in exercise that it detracts from your ability to be present and enjoy this time of year.