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Effective Strategies for Staying Active during the Holidays

By: NCSF  on:  Dec 14 2012
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It is common for health-conscious individuals to maintain their exercise regimen throughout the majority of the year only to find themselves struggling to stay on schedule during the holiday season. Numerous articles have identified this annual behavioral shift where many in America will gain ‘holiday weight’. For most this will be a 1-2 kg increase from pre-November weight, for others the ranges will double. The unfortunate outcome is the well-documented annual accumulation average of approximately 0.5-1 kg each year. Over the span of ten years, even minimal weight gain during the holidays can make for a considerable difference in one’s body composition. This ends up being starkly noticeable when observing Holidays past captured in pictures of one’s yesteryears. For example, if one gained a pound and a half during each holiday season, and we account for metabolic shifts with age, over a single decade the individual will potentially gain up to18 lbs of fat. Certainly, defense mechanisms kick in and metabolic energy-wasting helps limit the gains but scientists believe this annual increase in caloric intake with a subsequent reduction in activity has long-term effects. This well-known phenomenon is referred to as “creeping obesity”, but this common progression of weight gain over the lifespan can be limited in part by employing a few practical strategies to prevent the holiday weight gain. It is easy to say that staying active during the holidays is unreasonable based on the additional responsibilities and activities surrounding family, the need to travel and the frigid weather common in most states. On top of this, with so much going on, it can be challenging to find the energy to fit in exercise when one’s schedule has been disrupted. However, a little bit of planning and preparation, as well as making sure to capitalize on every opportunity for activity can go a long way in minimizing sedentarism and consequent weight gain. Furthermore, it is important to realize the benefits of maintaining a normal activity regimen helps reduce stress and anxiety, and mitigates some of the caloric excess associated with gluttonous consumption.

Consider these useful strategies for maximizing physical activity during the time of year when many people find themselves eating too much and exercising too little:

  • If you have to travel, planning ahead is crucial.
    • Search the area you are visiting for nearby parks or recreational areas.
    • Try to choose a hotel that has a fitness center, and get a sense of what the hotel has to offer. Some hotels call an out-of-order treadmill and exercise bike a fitness facility, while others offer a very functional space.
    • If staying with family, plan ahead of time to gain access to a local facility. Most gyms will allow their members to bring a guest (or two).
    • Sign up for a one-week pass online as many facilities offer free trials this time of year, or see if you can get a guest pass for a local gym at an economical price. Corporate gyms offer three-day trials.
    • Make plans for activity and schedule it so people know ahead of time; engage the winter’s opportunities to ski, sled or play a winter sport together.
  • If your schedule is based on someone else’s time, be prepared for anything. Brainstorm how to fit activity into even the worst-case scenarios (e.g., working out with no equipment in your grandma’s basement).
    • Have a 10-15 minute, premeditated workout plan that you could perform nearly anywhere. Body weight activities set up in a lactate threshold circuit format can be fairly effective.
    • Travel with light resistance training equipment, such as bands or a jump rope that can be utilized anywhere and schedule activity for a set time every day.
    • If you are bringing a laptop or tablet, buy or borrow a workout DVD series, download a few fitness apps, or take training ideas from streaming internet videos such as the NCSF YouTube channel.
  • Take advantage of each and every opportunity for caloric expenditure, especially when planning and preparing goes down the drain.
    • Bring tennis shoes and gym clothes so that you can capitalize on chances to go for a brisk walk or jog when others are napping, preparing dinner or simply watching TV.
    • Walk as much as possible. For an average-sized individual, an hour of walking can burn up to 400 calories. When shopping, take extra laps around the mall (especially during poor weather), use the stairs whenever possible, volunteer to walk the dog or play with the kids, offer to help with household chores such as shoveling snow, raking leaves or cutting firewood.
  • Plan a daily at-home workout session with family to create a fun bonding experience. This can be sold to others by focusing it on keeping young children in the house active and stimulated.
  • Limit time spent simply watching TV. It is well documented that this activity is often connected with caloric intake.
  • Plan family fun nights that include active games to reduce the focus on eating or party activities such as dancing.

These are feasible solutions for many, but depending on your holiday schedule it’s important to remember to create a schedule that is attainable. Setting up a schedule that is too rigorous to stay on track often ends in complete failure. When you cannot absolutely control the daily schedule, manage what you can control. Increasing intensity when you do work out and engaging in as much activity as possible will make it easier to get back on track after the season.

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