Category: Holiday Exercise Articles

2 Reasons You HAVE to Exercise During the Holidays

When it comes to the holidays, there are no shortage of tips for staying healthy and keeping up with your workouts. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Sign up for a holiday-themed race!
  • Make it a group activity and have your family join you at the gym!
  • Go outside and rake leaves or shovel snow!

These tips go on and on and though well-intentioned, they’ve never worked for me.

Yes, it sounds great to run a 5K on Thanksgiving, but…wait, no it doesn’t. It sounds as much fun as, well, running 5 kilometers on what will likely be a cold, wet, miserable November day (unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm).

Make it a group activity? Really? Spending even more time with the family you can’t get away from? And you have to go to a gym? Why???

Rake leaves? Shovel snow? Again….why?? Is this a holiday or a punishment?

2 Reasons Exercise Will Save Your Life Over the Holidays

All that advice is all well and good but, for most of us, our time will be jammed with travel, cooking, socializing, dodging a variety of bullets (for example, your grandmother who will likely bring up how fat you’ve gotten or the fact that you haven’t gotten married yet), eating, drinking and just generally trying to get through it without totally losing your mind.

BUT–I know how to help you. Yes, I’m going to talk about exercise, but think of exercise as your Fairy Godmother (FGM). Your FGM is there to help you keep your sanity. Here are 2 things exercise can give you that nothing else can.

  1. Escape

What causes the most stress over the holidays? Family. You love them, well most of them, and you’re thankful for them, but there is no one on earth who knows you as well as they do. And that means they know all the buttons to push.

Some of these types of comments may sound familiar if you’re around the button-pushers:

“Well, it’s not like that time you forgot to pick me up at school and I sat there for 3 hours.”

“Really? You’re going to bring up the time I held you down in front of your friends and tickled you until you peed in your pants? Get some therapy.”

“So, I thought you joined a gym. I guess you haven’t been in awhile?”

In point of fact, I have actually heard these things uttered.

The point is, nothing is better than escaping those button-pushers, even for just a little while. It doesn’t matter what you do…your FGM doesn’t care.

Go to the gym, go for a walk, go do pushups in the yard. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it. It’s the only time you’re going to get to yourself and if you play your cards right, your family will approve. Some ideas to ditch them:

  • Just leave – This is the simplest choice because it requires nothing of you. You simply leave – out the front, out the back, whatever works. I’m pretty sure my dad did this every year while we all looked on in envy. Try it: Go for a quick walk or jog and if they ask where you’ve been when you get back, say, “Did someone move my wine glass?”
  • Do it there – Find an empty room and do some bodyweight exercises while blasting music through your headphones. Here’s a Quick Fix Holiday Body Weight Workout you can do anywhere.
  • Lie – Say you’re running to the store to pick something up and head to the park for a walk or go to the gym. Or just go to a bar…but before you go in, walk at least 5 laps around the building.

2. Sanity

So, exercise can give you a way to escape and it can also save you from sitting in a corner sobbing quietly while drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniels (not that I’ve ever done that…).

Think about what happens around your family, all the button-pushing and the rush to get food on the table? What happens to your body?

It enters the Panic Zone. Your blood pressure goes up and your body releases that lovely stress hormone, cortisol.

Do you know what cortisol does in regular doses? It causes your body to hoard fat. Guess where that fat goes? Your belly.

Not only is your body on red alert, but you’re no longer in control of how you respond to the button-pushers.

Responding to your mother-in-law’s comment that, “well, I wouldn’t cook it that way but I’m sure you know what you’re doing,” with a backhanded slap, for example, could very well happen if you’re out of control.

Your Fairy Godmother can help. If you just get out there and get a little exercise, you’ll calm down.

Your body will work off that extra tension, your anxiety levels will decrease and you’ll be able to think of better responses to your mother-in-law. Like:

“Thanks so much, Mommie Dearest! You know, I do know what I’m doing and I’m so pleased to have that confirmed.” You can add a silent ‘bitch’ in your mind if you like.

It may seem impossible to exercise during the holidays, but think of it less like something you have to do to burn calories or keep your weight in check, but more as a necessity to keep you from 1st-degree murder.

Now that’s motivation.

Why You Should Avoid Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

During the holidays you pretty much can’t throw a wet cat without hitting some article about holiday weight gain. In fact, I’ve written my share of those articles with the same tips everyone gives you every year. Tips like:

  • Eat something healthy before you go to the holiday party.
  • Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage or, better yet, don’t drink at all.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables first and then chow down on the mashed potatoes and stuffing.
  • Only choose one or two indulgences so you don’t overdo it.
  • Only eat and drink in moderation.
  • Add time to your workout to mitigate the calories.

I could go on, but you get the point.

The thing about these rules is that they make sense. Of course they do. These are rules that any sensible, self-aware person would follow. The problem is, we don’t follow them.

We don’t follow them because it’s the holidays and that very word is synonymous with indulgence. Not only that, but there are other factors that make it extremely difficult to follow any of those rules.

Why These Rules Are Stupid

  1. You’re with family. You love your family, but being with family stresses you out. What do you do when you get stressed out? You drink away your stress. Then you eat away your stress. Then you drink some more. It’s what we do.
  2. Yummy food. The food during the holidays is yummy. It has fat and butter and cream and it tastes good. Do I want a plate full of raw carrots and celery or do I want a mound of potatoes and macaroni and cheese?
  3. Social pressure. And then there’s the fact that everyone around you is eating and drinking all the yummy stuff. Someone with an iron will may be able to stick to the carrots, but most of us will feel that as a kind of permission to do the same thing. If we’re all eating too much then it’s okay, right?
  4. Pent-up energy. The time leading up to Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, is kind of like a pressure cooker. We shop, we decorate, we go to parties, we run around like headless chickens and whammo! The lid comes off at that last family gathering and we pretty much say – Screw it! I’m done trying to keep myself sane! Bring on the EGG NOG!

The real goal during the holidays isn’t avoiding weight gain…it’s survival and we all need to do what we can to come out on the other side so we can get back to some kind of normal life.

To that end, make your own rules about the holidays, but make them rules you know you’ll follow. I’ve got some for you.

Rules That Aren’t Stupid

  1. Pick the yummiest thing on the buffet, the one thing you’re dying for, and eat it first. Eat slowly and savor every calorie-laden bite.
  2. Avoid stupid foods. I would put carrots and celery on the list, but I would also add anything else you can eat any old time. Potato chips, nuts, all the pre-game frou-frou stuff. Don’t waste your appetite on that…save it for the good stuff.
  3. Drink smart. If you’re a drinker, you’ll want a strategy for that holiday dinner. The idea is to enjoy your booze but don’t let it interfere with all the good food you want to eat. I would suggest keeping it light – Some wine, maybe a vodka and soda. Enjoy your booze. Don’t let it enjoy you.
  4. Save room. If you’re picky enough and eat only the foods you really like, you’ll have plenty of room for dessert. Hopefully, there are multiple options to try.
  5. Stay in the moment. Yes, there is a tomorrow, but who cares? Enjoy all that’s good about the holidays free of guilt. Didn’t this year kind of suck? Didn’t you work hard? Isn’t it fun to blow it out the old bloomer leg? Go for it.

Yes, my rules don’t resemble any rules that any personal trainer would ever give to a client, but let’s be honest: Even trainers would find it hard not to indulge this time of year.

With that in mind, go into your holiday celebration with a clear head and a solid strategy. Figure out how to enjoy everything you want, all while dealing with Drunk Uncle Joe or Aunt Motormouth Edna. Forget about holiday weight gain and focus more on getting through this thing with as few emotional scars as possible.

And now, something fun…

Fun Facts About the Holiday

  • Most people only gain about 1.5 pounds during the holidays as opposed to the 7-10 pounds you always hear about.
  • Drinking can actually have health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease, boosted libido and more. Sure, that’s for moderate drinking. but you get to decide your own definition of ‘moderate.’ See how this works?
  • Eating turkey this year? Good for you! It’s one of the leanest meats you can choose and it’s a great source of protein. It also includes tryptophan, which helps you take a good long nap after eating.
  • Having some stuffing? Again, good for you! Breadcrumbs are rich in an antioxidant, pronyl-lysine, that has anticancer properties.
  • What about eggnog? It’s a great source of Vitamin D and protein. And there’s alcohol in there and remember that moderate alcohol intake is good for you. 2 birds? 1 stone.
  • How about tequila? It’s the holidays, but there’s no reason not to grab some Jose Cuervo (actually, choose a higher quality tequila if you can) because tequila aids in digestion and it’s a probiotic, which makes your gut healthy and happy. Shots for everyone!
  • Napping after the meal? Good for you! Sleep burns tons of calories – you could burn up to 65 calories per hour just by snoozing.

Happy holidays!