A Realistic Guide to Staying Healthy During the Holidays

Fitting in Good Nutrition and Exercise is Key to Staying Healthy During the Holidays.

As wonderful and exciting as the holidays are, let’s face it, they can also be busy and demanding. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does put even more constraints on our already-packed schedules. Navigating them and all of the extra decadent food that’s sitting around can make staying healthy during the holidays tricky at best and overwhelming at worst. It’s tempting to say that we’re going to put all thoughts of exercise and eating healthy on the back burner until after the first of the year, but that’s really not doing us any favors and may actually take away from our enjoyment of the season.

Caring for ourselves while doing everything else that needs to be done and that we want to do is a fine line to walk. That’s why I asked American Council on Exercise (ACE) Director of Product Development and personal trainer Lauren Shroyer, MS, ATC,  for some advice that can help all of us. In this Q&A, she offers a realistic guide to staying healthy during the holidays as well as tips for fitting good nutrition and exercise into a busy holiday schedule. She even offers a sample workout that can be done quickly and with no equipment.

Q: Why are both good nutrition and exercise important for staying healthy during the holidays?

A: Nutrition and exercise are just essential staples. Being consistent is a big part of how they are beneficial to our overall health and wellbeing. We don’t want to lose that consistency during the holiday period.

Lauren Shroyer, MS, ATC

The holidays can also be stressful. There tends to be less sleep, and it’s a little bit of a busier time of year. Sometimes shopping can be stressful and there just seems to be more to do. Alleviating stress through healthy eating and through exercise and taking the time to focus on your overall wellbeing is really very important during this time of year.

Q:  What do you consider to be the biggest challenges with maintaining a healthy diet during the holidays?

A:  I think one of the biggest challenges to maintaining a healthy diet is the temptation. There’s only so much willpower that we have, and as we go into this season where there’s so much temptation of maybe foods that we love, and we associate with comfort or happiness or family as well as sweets that we just enjoy and are drawn to, our will power is finite. So, we get to that point where we can’t say no. That’s why it’s really important that we structure our environment so that we are thoughtful about the choices we make during the holiday season so that we’re not overindulging but still enjoying the holiday traditions that are really meaningful to us.

Q: What do you consider to be the biggest challenges with doing some type of exercise during the holidays?

A: It always seems to be time. There’s just not enough time to fit it in, and it’s just such a busy time of year. The regular workout routine that people have relied on, and that schedule and consistency that they’ve relied on, often just falls to the wayside. It’s almost impossible to keep.

Q: What are some tips that you can give for working exercise or movement into a busy holiday schedule?

A: During this time period, it’s important to modify your schedule and not rely on your normal routine. Just know it’s not going to work. You’re going to have to go shopping after work or you’re going to have to squeeze in a party on the weekend where you don’t normally have that party every Saturday.

You want to look at your schedule and say, “Where is 30 minutes that I can fit this workout in?” Shorter workouts are just fine. Maybe it’s a 20-minute workout or a 30-minute workout where you increase the intensity to get the most bang for your buck. A High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)-style workout is a great way to shorten your workout but still get a lot of calorie burning and a lot of cardiovascular activity into your workout time.

If you can’t get an “official” workout in, find some way to squeeze in that activity. Even if it’s just parking at the back of the lot when you’re going shopping, taking the stairs instead of elevators while you’re in the office, pacing while you’re talking on the phone, or even standing up and doing squats every once in a while. These little bits of activity throughout the day all add up. It’s really important to sort of stack it up in your day so that you’re able to squeeze in a lot of these really healthy movement patterns that help support your strength and your stamina through this really busy season.

Q:  What are some things women can do to make sure they’re eating enough of the right kinds of foods for staying healthy during the holidays?

A: Structuring your environment at home is a really important first step and making sure that the house is stocked with  healthy, savory foods that you really enjoy eating. It’s easy to forget to do the grocery shopping when you’re out gift shopping, but take the time to stock the house with healthy foods and buy food that’s easy to prepare so that you’re not just jumping into a chip bag because you’re hungry when you come home.

You’ll also want to look for fruits and vegetables that are in season, because they’ll keep longer in the fridge. Things like squashes, root vegetables, apples and pears, those are all things that are in season, so they’ll keep much longer. If you’re still relying on strawberries or looking for lettuce, those kinds of things are going to wilt much more quickly because they’re no longer in season.

Q: What are some tips for being able to enjoy moderate amounts of holiday food that may not be the healthiest?

A:  One of the most important things is to make sure you eat something healthy before you go to a party or an event. Make sure you’re not starving. When you go starving, you will overeat, absolutely. It’s like going to the grocery store when you’re hungry, it’s a bad idea.

You want to have even a small, healthy meal before you leave – some protein and some vegetables is a great combination. Then be very mindful of your time there. When you go in, take a survey of the entire buffet or of the sweets table or what’s on your family’s table. Choose something that is really important to you that you are looking forward to and enjoy every second of eating it. Be mindful while you do so that you’re not tempted to go back and have a second slice of pie because you’ve forgotten eating the first. You really want to be mindful while you’re eating so that you’re truly enjoying the food and the experience in the moment.

Q:  A lot of times in those situations, especially if it’s a party, you’re eating standing up. You’re eating while you’re talking to somebody else. Whether you even remember what you ate or not is questionable. What’s the best way to approach that situation?

A: It is the mindlessness of that kind of a scenario that makes it so easy to overeat. My suggestion would be to pause before saying yes to the gentleman walking around with the tray. To stop and ask yourself, “Am I hungry in this moment?” If you’re not hungry in that moment, just say ‘no thank you’ and instead focus on what you are enjoying, which is the conversation around you and the people that you’re with.

Q:  What are three types of exercises that women can do that require little time, no special equipment and gives them the most bang for their buck for staying healthy during the holidays?

A:  My general advice is to go for whole body exercises that are of a higher intensity so that you get the most muscle involvement. This approach is really going to lower your blood sugar, which is fantastic for overall good health and it raises the heart rate, which is also great for cardiovascular health. You’re hitting all the muscles at the same time, so for any toning or strengthening, that’s important as well.

The big muscles are your lower body muscles. Hitting those is the best for calorie burning, for overall strengthening, as well as for getting your heart rate increased. Body weight squats (see below) and body weight lunges are all fantastic exercises and can be done anywhere. Dropping down on the floor and doing a mountain climbing exercise (see below) is fantastic for increasing your heart rate very quickly, and pushups (see below) are fantastic for your core and your upper body all at the same time. Really keeping a nice, solid core and tight abs while you do the pushup helps to engage the core more. You’re also getting a little ab workout while you’re getting your upper body workout at the same time.

Also, don’t forget to consider the things you’re already doing. If you’re going to a party and going dancing, dancing is a great workout, so you can check that box for the day.

Stay Present and Enjoy the Season

Lauren says that taking care of ourselves will help us to stay present in each moment and to really enjoy the entire season. “After all,” she reminds us, “It’s a season of gratitude and giving and a wonderful opportunity to spend time with friends and family. Don’t let the stress of it take away that presence and the enjoyment of it.”

Here’s Lauren’s recommended workout that requires little time and no special equipment. Each exercise links to images of how to do it on the ACE Exercise Library.

Lauren also says that the ACE Healthy Living Blog routinely has great workouts for home and the office created by highly trained and experienced professionals. Here are two workouts that she recommends that appear in that blog.

Support for the holidays and Beyond

If you’re looking for support, accountability, and more strategies for staying healthy during the holidays and beyond, be sure to check out the Empowered Health and Wellness for Women Over 40 Facebook group or learn more about my one-on-one health coaching. For more information about either of these, feel free to contact [email protected].

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