The stretch between Halloween to New Years can be a non-stop slog of parties filled with travel, drinking, sweets, third helpings, food comas and no exercise. While maintaining holiday fitness can be difficult, it doesn’t need to be.
Here are five helpful holiday fitness tips for you this season:
1. Indulge on individual days, not the entire season
Restricting the drinking and overeating to the actual holidays can be challenging with all the extra parties and special dinners that tend to pop-up throughout the holiday season, but try your best to keep the over-indulging to the individual holidays rather than every day throughout the season.
Overeating or drinking on a few days throughout the season won’t wreck your health, but if you treat the entire season as a time to “treat yo’self,” then you could develop a sweet tooth and bad eating habits that last well past the holiday season.
2. Eat mindfully
At big meals and parties, eat sensibly and mindfully (that is, slowly and stopping when you get full). Bring healthy dishes to dinners. If you’re going to overindulge, decide to fill up on nutritious foods like proteins and veggies rather than bread and sweets. Give yourself small servings of dessert or share them with friends.
Make sure to drink lots of water, especially during big meals to keep you feeling full and well hydrated. And remember that spirits and wines both contain extra calories and sugars that won’t fill you up, so drink in moderation.
Also, leftovers can be a trap. Put the food away as quickly as you can — you’ll be less likely to indulge in seconds, if it’s already in the fridge. Also, give leftovers away and share them with friends so they won’t tempt you.
Sherry Pagoto, associate professor in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says, “It’s easy to overindulge when the season of parties and leftovers – so many leftovers – is upon us. Avoid allowing ‘treats’ to become staples by not letting them linger in the house after the celebration has ended. When the party is over, it is time to dump the junk!”
3. Be creative and have a plan
You’re not always going to be able to get to the gym, and the reduced sunlight and cold weather can discourage you from going outdoors, so it helps to think of possible holiday fitness goals and ways to sneak exercise into your holiday plans.
Brainstorm ideas and then write down a concrete plan of when and what you’re going to do, that way you’ll be more motivated to actually follow through.
There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that require no equipment for working out on the fly: Take short jogs around the neighborhood before or after work, try a 10-minute morning yoga session through a smartphone app, do some push-ups or sit-ups before dinner, or go out and play a quick game of basketball or tag after work.
You can also set a holiday fitness goal like signing up for a race, running a mile everyday, working out four times a week or doing 100 pushups each day to keep you motivated. The goal should be fun and realistic, but be sure to create an actual plan so you’ll be more likely to do it.
Various trainers also suggest getting your exercise in early, before holiday tasks begins. Others suggest doing super-small workouts — like 20 quick pushups and squats repeatedly throughout the day. You could easily wrack up 200 pushups and squats if you do a quick set before starting new tasks.
Every moment you stay active and out of the kitchen is a moment you’re burning calories and avoiding the temptation of holiday snacks.
4. Take advantage of the seasonal exercise opportunities
Shoveling snow and raking leaves are two easy ways to be helpful during the holidays while also raising heart rate and working out major muscle groups. If you’re at a party, dance your legs off. If you’re visiting a new place, do your site-seeing on foot. Or if you’re holiday shopping, try power walking around the mall.
The cold weather can make for great fitness since the body burns calories to stay warm. Plus, the frosty holiday weather makes for great exercise opportunities through ice skating, sledding and snowball fights.
You can also motivate yourself by inviting out-of-towners, family members and longtime friends to workout with you, keeping you accountable while allowing you to reconnect with them in a unique and healthy way.
5. Remember, fitness isn’t ‘all or nothing’
It’s easy and discouraging to think that if you’re not exercising at a gym or like you normally would that any effort is meaningless. This simply isn’t true.
It’s important to be both realistic and self-compassionate during the holidays: In all likelihood, you’ll probably be exercising less and ingesting more than usual, but it’s no reason to give up all hope of holiday fitness altogether.
Anytime you eat healthily or get some exercise in, that’s a win that contributes to your overall health. Rather than throwing up your hands and thinking, “Oh well,” challenge yourself to do what you can, even if it’s just short bits of exercise and smart eating here and there.
You might surprise yourself with how well you maintain fitness just by having a flexible and determined attitude. And once the holidays end, you can always go back to a more regular routine to keep you fit all year long.