From now until New Year's Day, your schedule will likely be filled with family obligations, traveling and festive outings with all sorts of tempting treats. It's no surprise that many of us see our waistlines expand during the holiday season. Even the most disciplined people can find it difficult to stick to their health and fitness routines.
But this year can be different.
To help keep us on track, I've enlisted the aid of several colleagues – leading experts in health, sports medicine, behavioral psychology, fitness and nutrition – for some much-needed advice. Here are their secrets to staying fit during the season of overindulgence:
1. Keep moving.
"In addition to staying active, try to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time, such as when watching football games or eating. Remember: Too much sitting is hazardous to your health. Research shows that getting up for just five minutes every 30 to 60 minutes and performing light activity (say, pacing around the house or performing simple squat exercises) reduces the risk of diabetes and other heart disease risk factors."
– Lance Dalleck, assistant professor of exercise and sport science at Western State Colorado University
2. Be the man or woman with a plan. And hydrate.
"The holidays can be a real land mine in terms of disrupting your best exercise and weight-control intentions. Start each day with a game plan, just like a great coach going into a big game. First, track your food intake and activity level. Doing so makes you aware of the amount of calories in certain foods. Even if you decide to eat higher-calorie options, you will probably eat smaller portions and make other adjustments to stay within your daily caloric goals.
"Also, stay hydrated. Your brain can sometimes confuse thirst with hunger. A large glass of water before a meal (and especially before considering seconds) can help lessen the amount of food you consume. Drink six to eight glasses of water per day, and be sure to have two big glasses of water before the big, calorie-rich meals."
– Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, clinical assistant professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
3. Make lists, exercise early and sleep.
"The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, but I recognize that it has the potential to be hard on my health. To alleviate the potential negative impacts of the season, I recommend making sure workouts are in the morning so you don't get distracted later in the day by parties, events or other holiday hoopla. I also recommend getting plenty of rest and maintaining lists to stay organized and stress-free."
– Chris Freytag, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor
4. Expect the unexpected.
"We are glass half-full people, so we hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst. We always have an emergency bag of healthy food that requires no refrigeration and can be readily eaten as is – a health umbrella of sorts. While the rain may indeed fall on the just and the unjust, it does not fall on the prepared."
– Lee and Beth Jordan, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainers and health coaches
5. Be creative and get rid of 'all or nothing' mindsets.
"The holidays are hectic, but do your best to avoid the 'all or nothing' mentality when it comes to healthful eating and physical activity. In reality, there is more than just one way to live healthfully and be active.
"During the holidays, get a bit creative with exercise and opt for fun ways that make physical activity a family affair. From exploring new group fitness classes to building physical activity into holiday traditions – like taking a family walk around the neighborhood before opening Christmas presents – think outside the box when it comes to ways to have quality time with family and friends while also prioritizing your health."
– Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College and American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor
6. Plan – and remember there is always time and opportunity for a workout.
"Plan your workouts for the week and note them in your schedule to assure they are a part of your day. Also, remember that some exercise is better than none. Rather than skipping the gym altogether, make time for a quick workout. If my schedule keeps me from the gym, I find at least 15 minutes to do body-weight exercises or kettlebell swings in the evening. It may not be my normal weightlifting workout, but I do sweat and feel a lot better when I'm done."
– Pete McCall, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer
7. Indulge for a night, not a season.
"It's easy to overindulge when the season of parties and leftovers – so many leftovers – is upon us. Avoid allowing 'treats' to become staples by not letting them linger in the house after the celebration has ended. When the party is over, it is time to dump the junk!"
– Sherry Pagoto, associate professor in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School
8. Remember it's a single day.
"Enjoy the holiday. If you worry about eating too much on this single day, the reality is that one day won't make or break your health plan. Unfortunately, most people start a pattern of daily 'treats' in some form or another or skip exercise due to visiting relatives. That routine then somehow continues from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Enjoy the holiday, but don't let it go from a day of indulgence to a month of indulgence that leads to unwanted habits that continue beyond the holiday season."
– Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer