7 REASONS YOU SHOULD EXERCISE DURING THE HOLIDAYS
The holidays will soon be here, which for many means getting together with friends and family, attending holiday events, and dining out often. However, they can also bring extra stress, a sleigh’s worth of excess calories, and numerous disruptions to your schedule. How can you make it through the holidays stronger and better than ever? One way to accomplish this feat (no holiday miracles necessary) is to maintain physical activity during the holidays. Exercise is a great remedy for stress. Counterbalance the eggnog and fatigue that often accompany a day of frantic shopping. Following a few exercise tips during the holidayscan add a little extra cheer into your holiday season.
Here are seven reasons to exercise during the holidays:
1. EXERCISE HELPS YOU MANAGE EXCESS CALORIES
The holidays go hand-in-hand with excess eating and drinking. Between sneaking extra candy bars from your kid’s Halloween bucket to sitting down for a massive Thanksgiving feast, and grabbing an extra serving or two of eggnog at the office holiday party, it’s easy to load up on calories.Even when you aren’t chowing down at Thanksgiving (3,000 calories on average) many sweater-weather days are filled with celebrations and family meals so it’s easy to drink more alcohol (120 – 300 calories per drink) or grab an extra serving of dessert (400 – 800 calories per serving).
While exercise may not be able to burn away all the extra calories you eat during the holidays, it can help you manage the fallout and even check some of your guilt. One of the biggest benefits of exercise during the holidays is that you can let yourself indulge a bit without seeing all that indulgence bog you down from reaching your overall health goals.
Exercise Tips During the Holidays: Short on time but want to burn a lot of calories? Try a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class. Many HIIT workouts can be done either in the gym or at home, so you can squeeze in a sweat no matter where you’re celebrating.
2. EXERCISE CAN HELP YOU COMBAT HOLIDAY STRESS
Beyond the good cheer of the holiday season is a lot of stress. You may need to fly across the country to see your family or spend your nights shuttling your kids to their holiday recitals. Then there are multiple shopping trips spent picking up those few last-minute presents your favorite online retailers can’t fulfill in time.
Managing holiday stress is difficult. An APA survey found 61% of respondents reported feeling stressed sometimes or often during the holidays. This stress, according to the survey, falls disproportionately on women who “take charge of planning many holiday celebrations, particularly the tasks related to preparing meals and decorating the home.”
While burning calories at the gym is all well and good for fitting into your favorite ugly holiday sweater, the real importance of exercise during the holidays may be what it can do for your emotional and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.” Moving helps release endorphins (a.k.a. feel-good neurotransmitters) in your brain and helps protect you against the negative effects of stress, which can cause cardio, digestive, and immune problems.
3. EXERCISE PREVENTS DETRAINING
Unfortunately, the concept of “use it or lose it” applies to many areas of life, including exercise. If we’re honest, the holiday season stretches from October to January. Should you slow down your exercise routine or stop exercising altogether, all those great gains you made throughout the year can disappear, a process known as “detraining.” In fact, a study from the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that even a two-week break from exercise in research subjects led to a notable loss of strength and muscle mass. While six weeks of retraining increased muscle strength and aerobic capacity in the subjects, they did not reach their previous level of fitness.
It’s far easier to maintain your exercise routine than to take time off and assume you’ll jump back on the exercise bandwagon after New Year’s is in the rearview window. Starting from scratch means rebuilding your exercise habit, which can be extra tough if you find yourself struggling to perform at your previous fitness level.
4. EXERCISE GIVES YOUR SCHEDULE STRUCTURE
One of the easiest ways to maintain good life habits is to create a consistent schedule. Building habits is based on repetition, but the holidays can wreak havoc on your schedule. This is especially true if you have to travel or have family in town who require a lot of your time. When one habit falls along the wayside, it’s easy for the rest of your habits to crumple like a house of cards. For example, if you stop exercising, you may feel like it doesn’t matter if you start eating out more often too.
Continuing to exercise during the holidays can help you maintain a familiar and comfortable schedule, which can make it easier for you to make other healthy decisions. Yes, holiday physical activity is difficult, but making the effort is well worth the results.
5. EXERCISE PREVENTS SEDENTARY BEHAVIOR
Even if you clearly understand the benefits of exercise during the holidays, it can still be tempting to grab a seat on the couch and stay put. The holiday season is also football season. The cold weather makes it unappealing to go outside for a walk or run. Your family members may invite you over to watch classic holiday movies. Or, perhaps the lure of a snuggly blanket, hot cocoa, and the latest binge-worthy show is too much to resist.
You aren’t alone. The APA reports that people in the United States are much more likely to report sedentary behavior during the holidays, including sleeping, eating, watching TV, and drinking. Don’t let sedentary behavior become a new life habit. Hit the gym for an hour or take a 30-minute walk. You’ll feel better, and you can always still catch your favorite show after you get home from the gym.
6. EXERCISE GIVES YOU MORE ENERGY OVER THE HOLIDAYS
All the fa-la-la of the holidays can get a bit tiring, which is why 68% of respondents to the APA survey admitted to feeling fatigued sometimes or often during the holidays. One of the best ways to manage holiday stress and fatigue is to… you guessed it, exercise! As counterintuitive as it sounds, exercise can actually help you boost your energy levels (no pumpkin spiced lattes needed).Harvard Health Publishing explains that exercise spurs the cells in your muscles to produce more mitochondria, which can create more fuel for your body. Exercise also causes more oxygen to circulate through your body, which helps you use energy more efficiently and function better overall.
So, if you start feeling a little worn down this holiday season, that’s just one more reason to exercise during the holidays.
7. EXERCISE HELPS ALLEVIATE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Not everyone finds the holidays particularly joyful. In fact, for those who have recently lost family members, have split with a partner, or for those already struggling with loneliness, the holidays can be extra painful. The holiday season also coincides with the shortest days of the year. All that extra darkness can trigger seasonal affective disorder or (SAD), a type of depression that affects approximately 10 million Americans.
Physical activity during the holidays can help alleviate some of these negative feelings. Remember, exercise releases endorphins in the body (the same chemical responsible for the runner’s high). Low-intensity exercise performed over a sustained period of time can also spur nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This, in turn, can help the brain function better.
So, if you need to chase away the holiday blues, hop on a treadmill or head outside for a walk. Learn more about the mental health benefits of exercise.