The average American gains between 6-8 pounds during the holiday season.
That fact seems to be re-stated on every fitness magazine and article you see between Thanksgiving and the New Year. While everyone assumes this weight gain is due to too many holiday cookies and sweets, there’s a sneaky culprit that may actually be the bigger issue.
Rest assured, the food you are eating during the holidays is most likely contributing to that number on the scale going up. However, many of us tend to downplay how our activity level also affects that number.
You see, being a gym owner and having worked in the fitness industry for over 10 years, I have seen the trends and know how they work at this time of year.
Attendance drops, requests to have memberships moved, paused or canceled becomes a daily occurrence, and the gym scene starts looking more like a public school in the middle of the summer.
Each year we usually see the number of people consistently training drop by about 30-40% during the holidays. Almost everyone is moving less at this time of year. When you are not being active, BAD things happen! These include:
- Decreased metabolism
- Higher Cortisol Levels
- Increased Risk of Osteoporosis
- Increased Risk of Diabetes
- Weight Gain
- High Blood Pressure
- Increased Risk of Depression
- Increased Risk of Colon Cancer
The list is endless, honestly. In fact, those who move on a daily basis live 10-15% longer than those who are sedentary.
When the holiday time comes, many of us certainly enjoy our turkey dinners and Christmas cookies—but the forgotten part of the equation is how much you’re moving.
Let’s think about a common scenario during the holidays.
You wake up for a holiday gathering at your mom’s house. Right off the bat, you all decide to head to breakfast, since most of the day will be spent cooking for the big dinner. You order your eggs Benedict with hash browns and orange juice and you have a piece of French Toast to clean up your son’s plate.
You head back to the house and plop on the couch where you spend the next three hours watching your favorite holiday films, only getting up when you’re ordered to peel the potatoes.
Next comes the gift giving where you all are sitting next to the beautiful tree with cases of cookies and an amazing holiday eggnog cocktail that seems to be going down like water.
After sitting and snacking all day the family arrives for the big dinner and your plate is filled twice with the works: ham, potatoes, mac & cheese and of course the bacon-wrapped asparagus, topped off with two pieces of pie! You “chill out” the rest of the night watching “Elf” and continuing to drink your favorite Fireball holiday cocktail.
Before you know it, your daily calorie intake is easily over 5,000 calories and you moved less than 300 steps. And the reality is that you may have several days similar to this during the holidays, due to all the commitments and family time inherent in the season. The thing that will make the biggest difference in keeping you both healthy and happy over the holidays is making a concerted effort not to let your movement levels drop off a cliff.
If you keep your activity high, the damage from a day of poor eating choices will be lessened. When you exercise, those extra calories have places to go or muscle to build. Not to mention exercising has been shown to help combat cortisol levels, which will help your decision-making skills and metabolism. If you exercise, you are less likely to binge eat on Grandma’s peanut butter cookies.
Many of us are emotional eaters and when you exercise and move, endorphins are released. This can really help combat those “winter blues” that make you want to stuff your face all day. By staying active, you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone.
Of course, getting to the gym during the busy holiday season isn’t always easy. That’s partially why so many people’s activity levels fall off in the first place. If you’re not a gym rat, you can try these strategies:
- Simply head out for a walk before or after meals and invite your family so you can talk/catch up while MOVING instead of sitting on the couch.
- Instead of sitting and watching TV, ask your kids or family to head out for a game of catch or take them to the park and run around with them.
- Increase your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Do things like washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning floors, vacuuming or even playing active games like charades.
No one likes sitting around feeling bloated and/or constipated, so have simple plans to keep your body moving. It may even distract you from the food and help decrease your cravings!
Now, if you are a consistent gym person who intends to continue training during the holidays…
- Plan your workout AHEAD of time. Do not wait for the holiday parties to come and give yourself excuses to miss workouts. Have your workout planned and clothes laid out. For me, it’s first thing I do when I wake up. You can set the tone of the day, and your body and mind will thank you. It may also help you make better food choices!
- Think of small bouts of intense exercise. A 90-minute session every day is unrealistic for some. Rather, try aiming for a highly effective full-body workout like the one shown below (all you need is a resistance band). It only takes 18 minutes and will leave you with an awesome EPOC effect.
- Remember to include mobility. If you are stuck traveling and sitting for long periods of time, you will notice muscles tighten and/or you may develop new nagging injuries. After any long bout of travel or sitting, take a 15-minute walk and then do 10 minutes of mobility flows to loosen up tight areas that may be over-worked.
- Try using full-body movements and include some interval circuits if you know you will not be as active the rest of the day.
Don’t let the holiday season get you behind come January 1. Instead, plan, move and make a stand to hit at least 10,000 steps per day! You can also try adding this bodyweight workout first thing in the morning. It requires nothing more than a resistance band, so you’ve got no excuses!
Perform each exercise for 2 rounds of 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Then immediately move on to the next exercises. After you’ve completed all five movements, rest of a minute, then complete the entire circuit two more times. This whole workout should take a little less than 20 minutes.
Photo Credit: Nastasic/iStock