You Can Keep Moving During the Holidays – Really!

Travel time, fancy meals & drinks, and time constraints don’t have to hamper your movement goals. Being active during the holiday season is simpler than you think, and BONUS: it can even help you de-stress!

Holidays are fun but they are also, let’s face it, a hot mess of obligations, shopping trips, office parties, family get-togethers, and other “festive events.” Ok… maybe I should fess up right off the bat and let you know that I am known in my family for being a bit of a grinch. But even if you love this crap… I mean stuff… this still means we are spending more time driving, flying, standing in line, eating, drinking, and partying. Inevitably, this leaves less time to devote to our movement goals.

On then, on top of all that festiveness, many of us feel challenges (or stress) from our extra-busy schedules. That can lead us to overindulgence.

So ho-ho-hold on a second! The good news is that even though I just painted a rather un-merry picture, I want to assure you that is possible to stay mobile and active during the holidays and not lose focus on your fitness goals.

So with that happy thought in mind, let’s look at some strategies that can keep you moving and energized, and perhaps even add some extra fun and entertainment to help keep you not only merry and bright but fit!

Strategies to keep moving during the holidays

1. Pre-load your movement

Here is an example of what I mean by pre-loading. A few years ago, I travelled to Bermuda to report on a World Triathlon Series race, I knew well in advance that I wouldn’t have the time, gear, or perhaps even the inclination to continue with my normal fitness routine while I was away. Instead, I loaded myself up before the break.

In the days leading up to this trip, I simply did as much movement and exercise as I could safely muster.

You don’t have to be heading to the Bermuda Triangle to use this strategy. It’s a simple concept, and it’s easy to do any time you know you are going to be pulled away from your usual fitness routine.

As you likely know (since I talk about it quite often), fitness is actually built while you rest after a consistent period of train ng. So if you know a period of rest is coming in the form of a holiday break, load yourself up by skipping some usual rest days. Do some back-to-back workout sessions, lift slightly heavier objects than usual, and push yourself a little harder – all the while knowing that you will be giving your body some restful care very soon.

2. Plan ahead

In the Weighless Life forum that the Nutrition Diva and I run to support people who want to stop dieting and start weighing less, I recently posted this:

A friend recently told me that he had ‘lost his motivation to exercise.’ When I delved further, I realized that he was under that common misconception that when we fail to perform the desired action, it is due to a lack of motivation or willpower. But in reality, the issue was that he was relying on a vague goal of ‘exercise more’ instead of making a plan. 

I told him to get out his smartphone and not only plan his dedicated exercise time, but to actually write it on his daily to-do list or calendar app. Since then, he has only missed one of his planned workout sessions (because his son was ill). 

“Do a 30-minute online bodyweight exercise video” is much more actionable than “Get more exercise.” Lack of motivation is not usually the problem; lack of planning is.

The same principle applies to holiday time. Don’t leave your fitness routine up to chance! Make a plan by checking with your gym/studio in advance to find out their holiday hours. If you rely on walking or cycling to work as your major movement time, but the office is closed during the holiday, plan to do your shopping on foot or your errands by bike instead.

You can also set specific exercise goals that will get you moving early in the day before things get too busy. There a plenty of workouts online (including my YouTube channel) that you can do in a hotel room or your childhood bedroom that your mom has converted into a craft room since you left in ’89.

A little planning ahead will help you make sure you don’t get caught off-guard.

3. Let go of all-or-nothing thinking

This is likely the most meaningful mindset you can embrace, not just at this time of the year but any time you find yourself thinking “I don’t have to time X, Y or Z!”

Time is tight during the holidays, and that may mean you sincerely don’t have time to do your regular length routine. For example, I am quite accustomed to getting up, having coffee, walking on the beach before going for a dip and then heading home for a little work out in my movement room. But that is ~60 minutes that I likely won’t have while visiting my family, prepping for holiday festivities, and trying to be a super cool uncle. But that doesn’t mean I will skip my movement practice altogether. I will simply do what I can with the time I have.

Here are a few things you can try.

  • Do some short movement breaks throughout the day when you have five minutes. Burpees, jumping jacks, air squats, and other movements are great when you don’t have much time but want to get your heart rate up. I even have an entire cardio workout you can do that doesn’t even involve your legs on my website that you can try.
  • Turn chores into exercise. This can be as simple as walking to the store to buy the holiday meal ingredients and carrying them home in a backpack. Or it can be more involved, like adding some extra challenges to shovelling the walk. (I like to alternate hands on the shovel and see how far I can throw the snow.)
  • Turn outdoor fun into fitness. It’s easy to take some regular outdoor winter activities and, by making small alterations, create a heck of a workout. Instead of waiting at the top of hill for the kids to bring the sled back up, run down behind them and walk back up with them. Get involved and have fun (instead of checking your phone and thinking about how cold you are.)

4. Move as much of your body as possible

There is a distinct similarity between both cardiovascular and strength training workouts—they both work better if they use your entire body.

Focus on multiple-joint exercises that activate many muscles at the same time. For the biggest bang for your limited holiday-time buck, avoid exercises that target just one muscle group like bicep curls and instead focus on movements like Turkish Getups or simply getting down to the floor and back up again a few times (using as few limbs as possible for extra points).

Which leads nicely into my next tip!

5. Plan easy home workouts

Getting dressed to work out outside or getting yourself to the gym takes extra time that you likely don’t have during the holidays. So, instead, focus on some movement routines you can do at home. Perhaps even in your pyjamas.

One of my favourite go-to workouts that I do when I am pressed for time and space is the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. But there are a ton of short workouts to choose from, and you can easily do them in your skivvies if need be.

6. Turn your food prep into a workout

If you happen to be the one responsible for holiday dinner, don’t just prep all the food standing (or sitting) in the same position the entire time. Mix it up! Make your prep station dynamic (thanks to Katy Bowman for this idea).

This could mean putting your chopping board on the floor and kneeling. If you usually sit at the table to roll the cabbage rolls, try standing at the counter instead. If the weather permits, maybe you can even move some of the prep outside. Choose different levels and different locations to challenge your body and make it more fun.

You can also shun the modern convenient devices that outsource the most active parts of food prep and try this instead:

  • Mash the potatoes with a masher or ricer instead of an electric mixer
  • Roll the pie dough instead of using a store-bought dough
  • Whip your cream by hand
  • Set aside the electric carving knife and work those muscles in your hands, arms, and shoulders by using ye olde knife

Believe it or not, this all counts as very meaningful movement (if you can wrap your head around the fact that movement is not just about burning calories, that is).

7. Ignore the pressure to be sedentary

You may experience some pressure from family or friends to take a break and put your feet up. While this is advice that is likely anchored in love — we could all relax more — the idea that you need to be sedentary, overfed with a drink in your hand to truly relax is a myth.

The most relaxing activity in the world can be a long walk, an easy jog, a nice bike ride, a yoga session, and the list goes on. Don’t be fooled into sitting on your butt. Movement is both invigorating and relaxing!

8. Avoid the couch after the Big Meal

Studies have shown that postprandial exercise (moving after a meal) is an effective way to improve glucose control in individuals with Type 2 diabetes — as well as folks with no blood sugar issues.

The most consistent benefits researchers have is from long-duration (45 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (but shorter walks help too).

Resistance training appears to be an effective way to manage blood glucose as well. That sounds like some snow shovelling, snow fort building, or many other fun activities that challenge your muscles.

The researchers from a study from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science recommend that individuals focus on increasing energy expenditure after the largest meal of the day. So before you even start cleaning up the kitchen and doing the dishes, bust-a-move!

9. Make it fun

If you have family around, especially children, making your exercise time fun and game-like can be just as effective as hitting the gym. Sledding, street hockey, skating, skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking are all fun- and movement-filled activities.

If it’s too hazardous outside for some of your family or guests, then play your usual indoor games, but play them on the floor. This will get everyone’s knees and hips working at different angles than usual. And yes, it’s ok to have cushions available to make it comfier. We’re trying to move our bodies in unique ways, not punish ourselves and our guests.

My plan

I am actually travelling on the morning of December 24 this year, so I have some added challenges. Or do I have added opportunities? Right?!? See what I did there? You be the judge. But in any case, this is my plan.

On Dec 21, 22 and 23, I will make sure to get some good full-body workouts done so allowing my body some extra rest time is not only permissible it is encouraged. Then on the 24th, at the airport, I will not sit in the lounge waiting for my flight to board. I will pace, stretch, squat and keep my body moving. Let’s face it, I will be sitting more than enough on the plane.

Then, when I arrive, we’ll drop our bags off at the Airbnb and walk to the nearest grocery store (with our backpacks) to stock up on healthy, delicious food.

When it’s time to make dinner, I’ll stand at the counter or squat on the floor to do my part of the prep. And I will be the Airbnb doesn’t have a food processor or an electric knife, so all the better to get more movement in.

After dinner, even if it’s dark, we’ll go for a walk (the washing-up can wait). Since we spent so much time sitting on the plane, I will likely throw in some fun gallops and leaps. Then, once we’re back, we can all settle down on the floor to play a game or two before bed.

Sounds pretty great to me. And remember, I am known as the family Grinch.

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