The holiday season can be the most festive and busiest time of the year. But it also can be the hardest time to stay fit. Between parties or events and family gatherings, you’re probably eating more and moving less. But working out during the holidays is important for your health -- both physical and mental.
“One of the most important reasons to be active during the winter holidays is mood,” says Robyn Stuhr, vice president, Exercise is Medicine with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). “Scientists have found that physical activity lowers depression and anxiety.”
In fact, Colleen Hacker, PhD, a kinesiology professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle, WA, points to these 13 science-backed reasons to keep moving:
- Lifts your mood
- Boosts energy
- Makes you happier
- Helps you sleep better
- Lowers stress and anxiety
- Fights depression
- Builds strong muscles and bones
- Manages or lowers the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease
- Manages pain
- Boosts brain health
- Improves skin
- Improves sex health
- Makes you want to eat healthier
One of the biggest obstacles to physical activity is motivation. Hacker suggests tricking your mind. “Instead of thinking, ‘I have to exercise,’ think, ‘I want to move’ or ‘I get to move.’ Once you think of physical activity as something you want to do or get to do, you’re more likely to do it.”
As you work on a new mindset, follow these tips:
Know your why. “Reflect on what you want to achieve,” says Caroline Silby, PhD, a nationally renowned expert on sports psychology and author of Games Girls Play. Do you want to maintain or change your current fitness level? Do you seek social connection and stress relief? “The more you understand your specific goals for this timeframe, the more likely you’ll stay motivated to exercise over the holidays.”
Prepare for distraction. “Challenge yourself to adapt and adjust rather than doing nothing over the holidays,” Silby says. She suggests you create several exercise plans. If plan A won’t fit into your day, shoot for plan B or C.
Be consistent. Choose an exercise type and length that you can do daily like walking while talking on the phone or 10 pushups after brushing your teeth. “Shoot for consistency rather than intensity,” Silby says.
Reward yourself. Pair a behavior you don’t enjoy with one you do enjoy. For example, if you don’t feel like walking, try walking to a new playlist or your favorite podcast.
Plan for setbacks. “If you miss your workout on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, it's OK," Hacker says. "Start again on Thursday.”
Celebrate small wins. The ACSM recommends healthy adults ages 18 to 65 get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (30 minutes 5 days a week). But Hacker says it’s OK to have smaller goals. “If you’re not walking at all, then walking 10 minutes a day is a win.”
Change it up. Add variety to your workouts. “If you do the same thing 6 days a week, 26 days of the month, it’s going to get boring,” Hacker says.
Discover your style. Are you more likely to work out alone, in a group, or with a partner? Would you rather work out indoors or outdoors? With equipment or without? Free or paid? You have plenty of options.
“The best physical activity is the one that you will do,” says Hacker, who has trained Olympic athletes for six Olympic games. “It should be enjoyable and meaningful to you. If you hate the thought of running, then don’t run. Find something else you will enjoy.”
Also, Hacker and Silby suggest you change some of your daily habits to include moving more.
- Rake leaves or sweep your driveway instead of using a leaf blower.
- Wash your car instead of going through a car wash.
- Take advantage of free virtual workouts.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk back and forth to the mailbox several times each day even if you’ve already gotten the mail.
- Give yourself “activity snacks” throughout the day. Climb stairs, walk briskly up and down the hallway, stretch, or dance in your kitchen.
- Do your formal exercise classes or gym workouts early in the day before other activities get in the way or you talk yourself out of it.
- Do a chore or walk briskly in your house during holiday movie commercials.
- Play active video games with your kids or play with them outdoors.
- Make your house or apartment your own fitness center.
Ring in the New Year
Physical activity during the holiday season can ease stress, lift your spirits, and help you get ready for the New Year. Remember to pick activities you enjoy and celebrate small wins. Plan for physical activity throughout the day or pair quick workouts with habits you already do daily. If you get behind, simply start over.
“Take care of yourself during this stressful time of year,” Stuhr says. “Step away from obligations and move in a way that feels good to you.” You’ll be glad you did both today and in the new year.