How can I keep my exercise goals during the holidays?

The holidays can be such a busy time—parties, shopping, travel—that you may feel you don’t have time to exercise. However, exercise during the holidays may be even more important than usual. Research studies have found that heart attacks rise at Christmas and New Year’s, and one theory explaining the phenomenon is that the holidays may be a time when we abandon our routines (often for less healthy ones). Exercise can also help you maintain your weight and ease the stress and depression that are common during the holidays. Stress and depression both—in addition to being serious concerns on their own—appear to contribute to heart disease

Try the tips below for making sure you continue to exercise over the holidays. Your heart and overall health will benefit.

  • When you “don’t have time” over the holidays to exercise, the best strategy is to build shorter but more frequent periods of physical activity into your day, 10 minutes two to three times a day.
  • Walk whenever you can. Brisk walking while you are shopping for gifts or groceries counts. Park the car at the farthest end of a parking lot.
  • Take the stairs instead of escalators or elevators while shopping at the mall.
  • Do more housework, like scrubbing, mopping, vacuuming, etc. You can think of house cleaning for holiday guests as an opportunity to also get your daily exercise.

The best way to keep your exercise goals during the holidays is to stay on a schedule and make yourself do it. Add something new to your workout routine. For instance, if you’re a runner, plan on running a holiday 5K. Or plan a walk or a hike with family members or friends. Continue to exercise and even do a little bit extra, knowing there will be some holiday treats you’ll want to try. Make it fun, not a job!

Jim Sleeper
Addiction Medicine Specialist

Fitting in exercise over the holidays with all the parties and availability of great food can be difficult. Plan for your exercise and take advantage of those times just before or after eating. Go for a brisk walk with a family member or old friend. If you have to stay in pushups, leg lifts, and isometric stomach tightening can substitute.

The holidays are a challenging time of the year to maintain health and fitness goals. One strategy is to try and schedule exercise first thing in the day before the day becomes too hectic and difficult to fit fitness in. Furthermore, experts recommend that during busy periods like the holidays that shorter bouts of exercise will allow you to maintain your current level of fitness over the short term. When the holidays hit you can exercise first thing in the morning and if crunched for time a shortened workout will still help you maintain your current fitness levels until after the holiday season is over.

Dr. Suzanne R. Steinbaum, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Go to the gym during the holidays, no matter what. You might not want to venture out into the cold, but you will feel considerably better, both physically and mentally. Regular cardiovascular exercise will be worth the effort, both to ward off stress and burn off excess calories you may take in.

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The key to motivation around the holidays is a sense of control over what you are doing, when you are doing it and where. Choose something you know you love and have fun with. Add in social support such as friends, co-workers or family members to keep you engaged in the activities.

For most people goal setting is always a challenge. Part of that challenge is deciding what your goals are. Start goal setting by thinking broad. What are the top ten goals you have right now for the holiday season. For example, exercise, spending time with your family, eating healthy, shopping, gift wrapping, etc. The next step is to come up with a realistic 'plan' on how you can make all of these things happen; short term goals. In setting short term goals one of the most important things is to make them realistic (reasonable). For example, if you've never run a day in your life running a 10k in 4 weeks is probably not realistic and sets you up for failure. Set yourself up for success. Set goals you know you can attain so that you'll increase your confidence and build motivation to continue exercising.

Another key to setting realistic goals is being realistic with your time. It's usually important to sit with your calendar, see how much time you have and actually schedule time for your goals. For example, if you have an hour on Monday from 8-9am that might be a good time for exercise.

The best goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time based.

It is a challenge, but it can be done. I would suggest isolating your biggest obstacles and then formulating a plan that works for you. For example: If time is an issue- try short intervals at home or at the gym (it is amazing what can be done in 10 minutes), maybe hire a qualified trainer to come to your house or work. If travel is an issue, check out TRX training or bodyweight intervals that allow you to train quickly and with very little equipment. If energy is a limiting factor, don't overdo it- sleep well, eat well, and work out with short, yet effective workouts. If boredom is an issue, try something new, a class, or workout with some friends. Lastly, beware of perfectionism, it is so easy to miss a workout and get discouraged and judge yourself, but just pick it up the next day, no worries.

Set an aggressive goal, I mean a really aggressive goal right around January, February or March.

Things such as competing in a physique competition, 10k, Ironman, something extremely competitive that you have never done before. Why?

Because it will take 12 weeks or longer to prepare for an extreme event and unless you want to suck you will have to train throughout the holidays. You may not be perfect during the holidays but if you are intending on participating in an event then you will have to train consistently and eat good and this will avoid the temptation to eat badly.

Dr. Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine Specialist

Meeting your exercise goals during the holidays may be challenging as you try to juggle extra demands on your time. Although your schedule may be crazy, a little thought and planning will keep you physically active and ensure a positive mindset during the holidays. Hitting your exercise goals will also keep your energy levels up and fight off weight gain that tends to happen during the holidays.

  1. To be effective goals should be realistic. To this end, the holidays are typically not a good time to be trying to drop additional weight or significantly increase the volume of your work outs. A more appropriate goal during the holidays is likely to be to maintain your current weight and levels of activity.
  2. Revisit your current exercise schedule and make any adjustments necessary based on your holiday commitments. If you normally work out in the evening but have a holiday party to attend, plan to work out in the morning that day or during lunch time.
  3. If you are traveling over the holidays plan ahead and book a hotel that has a workout facility, is partnered with a health club, and/or is near a park for you to exercise.
  4. Break up your normal work out into shorter sessions. Instead of 30 minutes of continuous moderate physical activity, take three 10 minute walks.
  5. Look for dead time when you could be active. For example, use the time you usually watch your child practice sport to walk or jog around the field. You can still watch your child but also get in some moderate physical activity.

Although it should be possible to meet your exercise goals during the holidays it is also important to not stress unduly if you come up a little short. The holidays should provide opportunities to reconnect with family and friends, make new friends, give back, and enjoy the best of people. Missing a few exercise sessions should not be the end of the world.

The holidays are a busy time and can make it challenging to fit fitness into your schedule. During the holidays there are a few strategies you can use to keep your fitness goals intact. Studies show that fitness can be maintained even when performing very short bouts of exercise. In fact, something as simple as a short 10-minute training circuit can help you maintain your current fitness level.

Other strategies include simply being more active in your daily life to compensate for a lack of time at the gym. Park far away from shops while out doing holiday shopping or running errands, take stairs instead of elevators, and walk to coworkers' offices to talk instead of sending emails. By combining short workouts with increased activity in your daily life you can maintain your current fitness levels over the holidays.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.