It can seem impossible to eat healthily 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 [source: Science Daily]. Even if only a few pounds are added yearly, they can impact our short- and long-term health and well-being.
One of the best ways to prevent holiday weight gain is to stay physically active. Exercise helps to counterbalance the inevitable added calorie intake and improve insulin sensitivity. In other words, exercise burns the calories in all those sugar cookies and supports our body in utilizing the glucose that flood into our systems. There are also additional fringe 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. 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 before 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). By planning ahead, you are committing to be active – making it much more likely that you will follow through than if you try to fit it in later.
Regardless of planning, you will likely not have as much time for your workouts. The key is planning shorter (10-20 minute) workouts. Running, jogging, and walking are always doable for short bouts, as are bodyweight 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 body weight, so they can be done anywhere without equipment. You can find a plethora of 30-minute or less HIIT workouts on the internet, with a Pinterest search alone providing options galore.
There are many ways to 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. You might catch some flak (and jokes) from the family or inspire them to join along.
Speaking of family, invite family members to join along for a walk, run, or another workout. They might think 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 share it with. Organize a football game, tag, or hide-and-seek if you spend time with children. Even playing with a toddler and chasing them around the house can increase your heart rate. Throw in some planks while playing on the floor, and you will get full-body conditioning.
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.
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.
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.
In April 2023, Jennifer Bachman, the Health Center Administrator at Duke Health & Fitness Center, obtained her Health & Well-Being Coach Training Certification. This helped her expand her ability to serve her center's clients and create opportunities for a more meaningful member experience. Learn more about Jennifer's experience in the ...READ MORE
Optimizing men's health requires a holistic approach that takes into account the various physical, mental, and emotional dimensions. While physical fitness is important, it's just one piece of the puzzle. In this blog post, we'll explore the benefits of a whole-person approach to men's health, highlighting how it can lead ...READ MORE
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month; Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting millions worldwide. While medication is often a crucial component of diabetes management, a holistic approach that addresses lifestyle, diet, and mental well-being can significantly enhance overall health. This blog post will explore various holistic ways ...READ MORE