The holidays shouldn’t leave you looking like a bowl full of jelly. As fun as the holiday season is, it can be rough on your fitness program. Bad weather, stress, and lack of time can sap your motivation, while parties, visitors, and vacations can distract you from your workouts. It’s no wonder so many people gain weight in November and December, only to regret it on January 2nd.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can keep up or even improve your fitness level, stave off weight gain, and enjoy the holidays as much as ever. Just stick with the following guidelines.
- Manage your time.
Scheduling your workouts in advance, either with a printed workout calendar or online is always a good idea. But it’s especially important over the holidays, when just saying “I’ll do it when I have time” can be a recipe for failure. Your free time is sure to get filled up with other activities, and it’s easier than ever to forget about working out. On the other hand, if you schedule your workouts just like any appointments, you’re much more likely to do them when the time comes. Invite some friends over for extra motivation.
If you absolutely can’t find time on a particular day, mark it as a recovery period, and make sure you have a workout scheduled for the day afterward. It’ll prevent you from losing the fitness gains you’ve built, and ensure that you keep your exercise habit intact.
- Keep up your energy.
If your holiday period is marked by flurries of frantic activity followed by a worn-out feeling, you’re not alone. But you can shorten those “dragging” periods with these healthy habits:
- Stick to your food plan. Loading up on high-carb holiday treats can cause blood sugar fluctuations that leave you feeling tired, while subsisting on rushed snacks or skipping meals entirely prevents you from getting the fuel you need. But regular, high-quality meals and snacks will keep you running at top speed, whether you’re working out or fighting over the last Dora the Explorer doll in the toy store.
- Take time to relax. A meditation session, a round of yoga, or just a few minutes sitting with a hot drink or your favorite music will go a long way toward recharging your batteries.
- See the light. If your energy takes a nosedive in the wintertime, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, a mood-dampening condition caused by too little light exposure. See if you perk up after getting more rays (either by spending more time outside on sunny days, or by using a full-spectrum light box). If that doesn’t help, see your doctor.
- No skipping. If you feel a little tired before a planned workout, don’t take that as a signal to skip it. Chances are your energy levels will pick up once you start moving. And when you exercise regularly, you’re much less likely to experience those lulls during the rest of the day
- Travel right.
This is a great time of year to take a vacation or visit family—but without advance planning, those trips can bring your fitness program to a screeching halt. Here’s how to avoid that:
- Protect yourself on the plane. Since there’s no guarantee that an airline will have healthy food on hand, pack a meal or snack in advance, and make sure you drink plenty of liquids. If you’re worried about catching something on the flight, boost your disease-fighting ability.
- Watch out when eating out. Travel often means a lot of restaurant meals, and that can derail your food plan in a hurry. Try to find restaurants that serve high-quality meals, or, if that’s not possible, order the best of what is on the menu. (Even the IHOP® has some healthful, high-protein selections these days.) But if you eat in a chain restaurant, check out the nutrition ratings just to make sure you’re not getting one of those 2,000-calorie salads.
- Organize healthy activities. When you go to a warm beach or on a ski vacation, this is a no-brainer. But if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar city, you should find out in advance what you can do that requires a little movement. And if you’re staying with family members who prefer life on the couch, suggest some outdoor games—or, if the weather isn’t cooperative, healthy indoor activities. Even a post-meal walk will get everyone’s blood pumping and prevent total lethargy from setting in.
- Take your workout with you. One of the many benefits of a DVD workout program is that it’s portable. Decide which workouts you’ll want to do during your trip, and pack those DVDs, along with a resistance band. If you don’t have one, see if the place you’re staying has basic gym equipment, or stick to exercises that don’t require any.
- Take care of your health.
Nothing can derail a workout program like getting sick. And you may be extra-vulnerable to illness at this time of year, when stress and bad weather collide with cold and flu season. But a few basic precautions can improve your odds:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially before touching your nose or mouth. (A recent study found that it doesn’t matter how hot the water is, but for maximum benefit, you need to lather with soap for at least 20 seconds.)
- Avoid germs. If you work out in a gym, clean the equipment with antibacterial spray, or at least cover it with a towel. Warm, moist surfaces are an ideal place for germs to live and grow.
- Get plenty of sleep—less than 7 or 8 hours per night can compromise your immune system. (It can also slow your exercise recovery.) Try to save the late-night carousing for times when you can sleep late or take a nap the next day.
- Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to forget when it’s cold outside, but staying hydrated helps keep your immune system in top working order.
- Maintain your healthy eating habits, and get a complete supply of vitamins every day.