By Josie Rubio
Thanksgiving weekend is approaching, and whether it’s because of holiday travel or turkey-induced sluggishness, it’s easy to miss a workout or two. Or three. Let’s admit it—it’s really easy to let an exercise break that starts Thanksgiving weekend extend all the way through the holidays, until after New Year’s.
More than 75 percent of yearly weight gain takes place during the holiday season, with the average American gaining three to seven pounds during this time. According to Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a 160-pound person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles to burn off the 3,000 calories from the Thanksgiving meal alone.
We’re certainly not suggesting that regimen. Some exercise plans recommend working out more on Thanksgiving weekend, but let's be honest: If a weight or a yoga mat gets picked up just once this weekend instead of a drumstick, you can consider it a victory.
Here are a few strategies to help you have a healthy holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving weekend and taking you through to New Year's and into 2015. Incorporate even a few healthy habits and you’ll not only be in good shape—quite literally—when New Year’s rolls around, you also might find that you enjoyed the holiday season even more!
Encourage some active group fun. Everyone’s family is different, so the idyllic flag football Thanksgiving Day game isn’t always possible. (Or, considering much of the country has so much snow this year, maybe it's more like family sledding.)
“I tend to spend the holidays with a few people who have less ability due to a few injuries or aging and may have less ability to get moving in very significant ways—like a family backyard football game—but the bare minimum is, I will float the idea of a short walk at some point for anyone willing to join,” says Jonathan Ross of Aion Fitness and master instructor for ACE, SPRI and Tabata Bootcamp. He also uses ideas during family walks from his Walking Games series—tossing a ball between your walking partners, for example, or even pretending you’re an extraterrestrial life form assigned to study earth, a great activity for kids!
Find local classes. If you’re one of the 46 million-plus Americans traveling this Thanksgiving, you know it’s a challenge to work out on the go. Look online for some area classes—cycling studios, yoga studios (which often offer mats you can rent, so no there's need to bring any equipment) or gyms that offer one-day passes. “Search Yelp or use the MINDBODY Connect smartphone app,” Ross says.
Ask family members who live in the area if they know of any local workout studios or gyms. It’s also “a subtle way to make clear that you’ll be devoting some time to exercise while you are visiting,” adds Ross. It might even be a fun bonding activity to try that yoga class your aunt is always raving about or to introduce your cousins to Pilates.
Keep it portable. Pack your lightest workout gear—a few outfits and the proper shoes—and simply plan to get in at least a little exercise. (I often take my light, portable yoga mat with me, and though I don’t always use it, surely those extra few pounds in my suitcase count towards strength training, right?) Resistance bands are also extremely light, portable and affordable, so you can get in some biceps curls.
Find some no-equipment workouts. There may not be a local fitness studio—or it may be a hassle to go to a studio or gym while visiting family. Take along your favorite fitness DVDs that use little to no equipment or stream some workouts on your tablet. Some of the 25 ih8exercise.com exercises don’t require any gear at all.
Fitness Blender also has a variety of free workouts that require no equipment, including the Scientific 7-Minute Workout that implements only your body weight. There’s also the Fitness Blender 25-minute cardio kickboxing workout. Plus, these short workout options also combat another issue during the holidays—not having much time.
Carve out some time for fitness (and yourself). The biggest reason people say they don’t work out during the holiday season is because they have less time due to extra home and work commitments, says Ross. “I’ve found that people put too much pressure on themselves to check all the boxes and meet expectations of immediate or extended family and do everything for everyone all the time to make this ‘perfect’ holiday and wind up sleep-deprived, harried, and less likely to enjoy the holidays,” he says. “I’ve coached many people to identify a single tradition they can give up each year—or at least find a less resource-intensive way to express it.” This doesn’t forgoing a cherished cookie-baking tradition with Grandma or the family caroling night. Instead, identify something that you just don’t really enjoy -- maybe it’s as simple as cutting down on your holiday card list. In short, move when you can. Ross recommends committing to doing your five favorite exercises (or the ones you hate least) in 30-second blasts.
Try something new. Changing up your workout can help combat the mental stress of the holiday season. “Think about rediscovering a sense of play during the holidays,” Ross says. Try a new style of exercise or play a new sport. “The mental engagement that occurs from the novelty will give the mind a rest,” he says. “When you are preoccupied with things you must do during the holidays, it’s increasingly difficult to just workout alone with your headphones on and count sets and reps because your mind can easily wander. It’s best to focus on finding something physical that you enjoy and lose yourself in that experience as a way to pursue fitness during the holidays.”
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss some workouts—and enjoy the holiday season. Everyone misses some workouts during the holidays. Don’t obsess about it or think of exercise as all-or-nothing. Even the pros don’t work out quite as much.
What's your biggest challenge during the holiday season? How do you keep stress down and weight off? Do you have a secret for getting in some exercise?
Photos: Turkey: tigatelu; Pumpkin pie: Melpomene; Family walk: Monkey Business; Yoga class: Syda Productions; Gingerbread men: jfunk