10 Holiday Season Fitness “Hacks”
Losing your "mojo" this month? Try these strategies.
It happens to just about everyone at some point during the holiday season: We temporarily drop out of the healthy eating club, hang pajamas on the treadmill, skip sleep to bake or wrap, and sit endlessly before familiar, heartwarming movies. Or some variation thereof. And you know what? Some of that's a-okay. ALL of that, all month long, though, probably feels pretty crummy.
We forget that our vision of an indulgent December doesn't always match the outcome. We forget we can end up feeling sluggish, overtired, moody, and regretful. But a little balance, a reward or two to spur some motivation, and some tricks to stay on track can carry us through December and save our healthy lifestyle from disruption. Here are some ideas.
• Line up an exciting fitness-related gift.
Throughout the year, do you find you can “justify” buying workout wear or a new set of resistance bands but not a slightly bigger ticket item that would serve your fitness goals well? Consider saving one big wishlist want for Santa, something that gets your blood pumping just thinking about it. This year, I’m eyeing a meat-n-potatoes spin bike. I miss indoor cycling, and the idea of "riding" again is jazzing me up for January. How does a holiday gift help you NOW, possibly weeks from its arrival (and in my case, assembly!)? You may just find yourself motivated to stay in shape, so you’ll be ready to immediately blast out a workout on your new equipment, wear your new togs comfortably, or breezily navigate that ski trip you requested.
• Busy your hands & brain.
Uh huh, here’s this oldie but goodie. When you’re tempted to binge or stop a workout, distract, distract, distract. Maybe this is the year to return to penning, even making, good old fashioned holiday cards to mail to friends. Maybe there’s a brand new music album or audiobook to save for the treadmill. Maybe a huge box of photos and blissful memories waits to be sorted. My longest steady state workouts come when I write posts at the same time. My least snacky nights turn out to be those when I’m knitting away to finish a gift. (By the way, I chose the title photo for that knitter's amazing ability to practice her craft lying down!) What carries YOU away?
• Don’t deprive yourself. DO plan.
Ever experience FOMO, yes, “fear of missing out?” How about FOMOOT? That’s “fear of missing out on treats,” and no, it’s not a real phrase (just one I keep resurrecting to everyone’s dismay). However, it IS a real thing. Studies show that “short term, selected food deprivation causes cravings for the avoided food.” So, when you swear off ALL holiday treats but inwardly want them, you set yourself up to fight cravings and potential discouragement. It’s normal to want our favorite annual indulgences. One, they’re typically available for a limited time (hence, “annual”). Egg nog, for example, holds a lot less appeal at Halloween, am I right? Two, these treats, for most of us, connect very closely with warm memories, comfort, love, and celebration. That’s a hard cocktail to pass up. (And need I mention this year’s pandemic yet again? If ever you’re craving comfort & happy memories, it could be now.) So if you’re ditching anything, toss out spontaneity when it comes to eating and PLAN your indulgences. It sounds less fun but it feels much better.
• Dip into a bit of joy every day.
Holiday seasons flagrantly stir up conflicting feelings in many of us. Need I run down the laundry list? Melancholy for relatives long passed on or sharp grief for the newly departed, regret over things left unachieved this year, a frustrating mismatch between authentic emotions and the sea of sometimes manufactured cheer around us, and so on and so on. Did you know, though, that you can trick your brain into a more positive outlook by doing one thing? Yes, smiling. Research shows that simply moving facial muscles into a smiling expression triggers more positive emotions! Try it. I have, almost by accident. Following a guided meditation on joy by one of my favorite online teachers, Sebene Salassie, and the unexpected instruction to smile with eyes closed, I FELT the shift. At first, I thought I just wanted to laugh hysterically because hubby was also grinning right beside me. (We did lose it momentarily.) Upon further private attempts, I’ve discovered it DOES work all the time—more subtly and briefly than that first goofy foray but just enough for a welcome boost.
• Bake late season.
I come from a LONG line of accomplished, amateur holiday bakers on Mom’s side. In fact, when I was young and had little kids with classes full of other kids upon which to foist my wares, I baked for EVERY holiday. Shamrock sugar cookies? I’m your gal. Many years ago, though, I reined it in. As my kids got older, the backlog of treats in my home got bigger along with my appetite for them. Sugar in large doses brings lousy side effects, sending mood and energy spiraling, and longterm, as we know, blood glucose climbing. A reliable strategy—Bake late season and throw yourself only into the absolute favorites. Nowadays, my daughter & I tend to do a bake-a-thon the weekend before Christmas, crafting some beautiful confections that soon disappear.
• Wear workout clothes.
Okay, how many aside from me are already practically living in leggings or some other form of movable, breathable attire? A lot of people have mentioned this regretfully, and maybe it’s the personal trainer in me, but I think it’s great! At a time when workouts tend to flag, rising & immediately donning workout wear can 1) trip an almost Pavlovian response to get that exercise out of the way first thing or 2) remove one obstacle between you and a workout later in the day. In December, I always add a regular evening stroll to my routine to take in the crisp air & the glow of holiday lights throughout the neighborhood. Comfy clothes make getting out there way more likely.
• Get a jump on January.
If you tend to be the type who always wants to get a head start (and we know who we are), then this may be your ticket. While resolutions motivate many, many people in January, for others this time feels frenetic and unreliable. And possibly for good reason. Some research shows that roughly a third of resolutions fail after the first month. But what if you stick with a sound routine NOW or even add a small goal during December? Then January may feel a whole lot more ho-hum—in a GOOD way. When healthy habits are “just what you generally do,” then you’re more likely to just keep doing them.
• Revel in winter novelty.
We humans LOVE novelty. We itch for new things, from actual things to fresh experiences. When you live in an area like western Pennsylvania, novelty is built right into the environment in the form of changing seasons. Whatever your favorite (summer chick here), you likely feel some excitement at the start of each. December provides a perfect wave of uniqueness. Enjoy a bracing breeze, meander through the first snow, admire the skeletal patterns of bare branches against sky. The newness may just pull you into the twin benefits of moving your body and immersing yourself in nature.
• Schedule a soothing moment.
Though we may have less obligations outside the home during this particular year, the holiday season probably still brings a good deal of stress with it. As we know, not only does stress feel crummy, it does some undesirable things to our bodies. It’s also one of the reasons people often cite for quitting exercise. So, we could argue that building a few moments of calm into each day will help create a nice little behavior loop: Practice relaxing so you’ll potentially feel a bit less stressed and more likely to exercise, which in turn, lowers stress & nurtures relaxation.
• Aim to sweat.
If you’re a competitive endurance athlete or have simply participated in fairly intense exercise privately or in classes, then you know what rides along with the rush of sweat: a corresponding flood of endorphins. Because endorphins actually create feelings that are similar to those resulting from morphine, our brains set off a natural burst of pain relief and a state that many describe as euphoric. Surely, you’ve wanted shout mid-workout, “I am SO glad to be ALIVE!!” (Some of my group ex class participants used to do so in much more creative ways.) If so, thank endorphins. And while people don’t necessarily become addicted to endorphins, many people are drawn back to challenging workouts again & again for the glorious sense of wellbeing. The holiday season is a great time to take exercise up a notch—It just might make you crave your next workout in a month when many people quit.
Here's to recapturing a big slice of healthy living mojo this month! Don't worry. It's in there. Just use a few tricks to wake it up. Be well, my friends.