With so much to do around the holidays, it’s easy to get off track with your exercise program. When your “to do” list becomes impossibly long, it’s tempting to skip a day of exercise – and then one day turns into two. Starting to see a pattern?
No doubt, the holidays are a challenging time of year for sticking with healthy habits, including exercise, and it’s hard to ignore all of the festive, “not-so-healthy” goodies, so sticking with your fitness program is important. Sugar cookies, eggnog, pecan pie, and no exercise are a bad combination. Here are seven tips to help you stay on track.
Embrace the Power of High-Intensity Interval Training
When you’re pressed for time, tap into the power of high-intensity interval training. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a short but powerfully effective way to work out – and it’s versatile too. You can do a structured HIIT workout or simply choose 5 or 6 exercises to cycle through using a 2 to 1 work to rest ratio. For example, do a minute of high-intensity exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest. Exercises you might do during the active intervals: burpees, squat jumps, jumping jacks, butt kickers, high knees, donkey kicks, mountain climbers etc., although the sky’s the limit as long as it gets your heart rate up.
The key is to keep the intensity high during the active intervals, corresponding to an effort level of between 8 to 10 on a 10-point scale. When you’re working at this intensity, you can get significant benefits with only 15 or 20 minutes of exercise. Even during a busy holiday season filled with shopping and meal preparation, fifteen minutes is doable – and think about how much better you’ll feel afterward. HIIT training will help you keep your waistline trim in the face of too many holiday temptations.
Think of Exercise as a Stress Reliever
Don’t think of exercise as another obligation to add to an already overflowing list of things to do – think of your workout as a stress reliever, a way to escape the holiday madness for a little while. When you reframe exercise as a break from the holiday madness, and as “me” time, doing it won’t seem like such an imposition and you’ll be more motivated to do it.
Sure, the holidays are a happy time, but they also bring a certain degree of stress – the pressure of choosing and buying gifts, social obligations, and family issues. If you work a full-time job, multiply the amount of stress by at least two.
Why is this relevant? Exercise is one of the best stress relievers and one that’s totally natural. Plus, maintaining some semblance of routine around the holiday season gives you a sense of control. Think of exercise, not as another obligation, but as stress therapy. The extra endorphins (think of them as your happy hormones) you release after exercise can help you stay sane, despite having too much to do.
Focus on Compound Strength-Training Exercises
You’ll feel stronger and have more stamina if you don’t let resistance training fall by the wayside as the holidays draw near. The good news? You can pack a lot of strength training into a short period of time when you focus on compound exercises that work two or more muscle groups at a time. Not only are compound exercises more time expedient, they burn more calories, and elicit a more powerful hormonal response to help you build lean body mass.
When you think you don’t have time for a strength workout, choose four compound exercises that work your major muscle groups, for example, push-ups, squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows, and cycle through them during the time you have available. If it’s only 10 minutes, that’s okay. Congratulate yourself on doing something.
Think about the Downsides of Not Exercising
It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t have time to exercise and you’ll get back on track after the holidays. Even though you probably won’t lose all of your fitness gains if you take two weeks off, it’ll feel like you’re starting all over again. Think about how far you’ve come, and, most importantly, how exercise makes you feel. It gives you the stamina and endurance to make it through stressful times – like the holidays! Sometimes all you need to stay on track is to remind yourself WHY you started exercising in the first place and what you gain by doing it.
Accept the fact that things are going to be more chaotic and less structured around the holidays. Even if you can’t exercise at your usual time or as long as you usually do, take advantage of the time you DO have. What you lose in time availability, make up for with intensity. Be flexible enough to lace up your exercise shoes when an opportunity presents itself.
Another effective way to deal with the problem of schedule overload is to work out first thing in the morning before you do anything else. It’s one of the best ways to ensure you get it done.
Add More Unplanned Exercise into Your Day
The extra steps you take count when it comes to controlling your weight and your health. Use a fitness tracker to monitor your activity and to help you stay motivated to move more around the holidays. When you shop for gifts, park far away, take the stairs, and pick up the pace as you shop. Just stay away from fast food restaurants and food courts with cinnamon buns and other unhealthy offerings.
Set a New Goal
When you have a fresh goal, it energizes you and makes it easier to stay motivated to work out. Don’t wait until January 1 rolls around to pencil in new fitness goals. Tackle a new goal around the holiday to increase your motivation to exercise. You’ll be one step ahead of everyone else come the New Year.
The Bottom Line
It’s all too easy to get out of the exercise habit over the holidays, but you need exercise more than ever during this hectic time. Keep up your routine as much as you can, but be flexible too. A 10-minute workout is better than doing nothing, and if you work out at a high intensity it can be just as effective as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Stay focused and flexible, and you won’t have to make up for lost time when January rolls around.
ACSM.org. “High-Intensity Interval Training”