It’s Christmas! It’s busy! We know! But it’s still possible to stay fit without really trying too hard this festive season with our handy guide…
Christmas is fun, festive and fabulous, but in the whirl of drinks, parties, shopping, wrapping and cooking, exercise can suddenly fall to the bottom of your priority list – and at a time you probably need it most!
For a start, it does wonders for your mental health. ‘Christmas can involve a lot of time spent indoors with family and being endlessly busy,’ says personal trainer and nutrition coach, Nicole Wright (edinburghruntours.com). ‘Setting time aside to exercise gives you much-needed headspace and the chance to regroup, so you can go back home calm and refreshed.’
Counter the Christmas excess
And it’s not just about keeping inches off your waistline from all those canapés and Quality Street either. The excesses of Christmas can affect our bodies in a whole host of negative ways, but a study in the Journal of Physiology showed exercise may help counteract this effect.
The study compared a group who overate by 50 per cent for a week and reduced their exercise, with a group who overate by even more and exercised each day.
In the non-exercise group, there was a decline in blood sugar control and negative changes in the ways that genes involved in healthy metabolism expressed themselves. However, in the exercise group, it found that vigorous-intensity exercise counteracted most of these effects of short-term overeating.
Not an excuse to for a total blow-out, but it’s a good reason not to abandon exercise over Christmas.
You’ll be more motivated
‘Exercise can also change your mindset around food,’ says Nicole. ‘Working out makes us feel good and motivated to look after our bodies, and so we tend to give more thought to how we fuel it. It can help us be more mindful of what we’re eating instead of getting into the Christmas mindset of eating to excess.’
So, while you can certainly still enjoy the festivities, don’t throw in the towel altogether when it comes to exercise. ‘If you abandon your exercise routine for the whole Christmas period, it makes it very challenging to start again in January,’ says Nicole.
‘The socialising and hectic schedule can start at the beginning of December and last until early January, and I see with my clients that it can sometimes take until Easter to get back on track!’
The secrets to success
The key is to set realistic goals. ‘Aim to simply maintain your fitness rather than getting fitter,’ says Mel Kent, Performance Pro strength and conditioning Coach (performancepro.fitness). ‘It’s easier than you think and, remember, something is always better than nothing.’
Start by applying the same kind of planning to your exercise as you do for your social calendar. ‘Try to look one or two weeks ahead,’ says Mel. ‘Go through your diary, see where the opportunities are and write them in.’
Exercise early rather than late
Morning exercise works particularly well at this time of year, even if you aren’t usually an early bird. ‘The best time to exercise is just whenever you can,’ says Nicole.
‘However, it’s worth considering that increased socialising eliminates some evenings and you’re also more likely to be offered a glass of mulled wine or prosecco at 3pm – what are the chances of working out after that? So try setting your alarm 20 minutes earlier in the morning and using that time to exercise so that it’s done and dusted.
‘Also, try to stick to the same frequency of exercise, even if if the content isn’t the same,’ says Mel. ‘For example, if you go to a spin class twice a week and yoga once a week but can’t manage that time out over Christmas, still try to do something in those times, such as a brisk walk or a HIIT video at home.’
Importantly, though, be kind to yourself and tailor your exercise to how you’re feeling. ‘With the extra stresses and perhaps less sleep of the festive period, it’s not about turning up and smashing out your best workout and you shouldn’t feel beaten down and exhausted at the end of it,’ says Mel. ‘Listen to your body – an appropriate workout will leave you more energised and less stressed.’
If you’ve got kids at home and can’t leave the house, take them with you! They can cycle or scoot around the park while you run or power walk – everybody will feel better for the fresh air and exercise. If you’ve got family staying, get everyone involved with a game of rounders or cricket in the park – gran can be backstop!
There’s no need to miss out on festive fun either. If you’re meeting up with girlfriends or other families to celebrate, why not suggest something active such as ice skating or a walk in the forest or hills?
How about a swing dance class with friends for something new that’s guaranteed to make you all laugh? That doesn’t mean you can’t follow it up with a mulled wine or hot chocolate in the pub!
Make movement part of your day
And don’t forget the countless Christmas tasks where you can sneak in some more movement. ‘It’s called NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) and it’s extremely effective at helping you maintain your fitness,’ says Mel.
Walk to the Christmas tree shop and carry your tree home if it’s not too far away (this might need two of you – the average 6ft Christmas tree weighs about 50lb/23kg), march to the pub for Christmas drinks instead of taking a taxi and give up online gift shopping and head out to the shops on foot.
Set up a gym at home
If too much time out of the house is an issue, use your home as your gym! There is a multitude of workout videos on YouTube – try a Joe Wicks HIIT workout (they’re usually around 15-20 minutes) or for strength, flexibility and a balm for the mind, try any videos from Yoga with Adriene.
If you’re really strapped for time, try the 7 Minute Workout app for a speedy exercise session that will get your heart beating fast and endorphins flowing.
Getting down with the kids will keep you fit too – if there’s a Nintendo Wii Fit in the house, get on it and show the youngsters how it’s done!
TRY OUR MICRO WORKOUTS
Here are some simple ideas for staying festive-fit! You can do them all at once or spread them throughout the day.
Try Nicole Wright’s tips for getting more from your daily walk…
Aim to get 20 minutes of cardio in at least three times a week over the Christmas period. Do this by heading out for a brisk walk where you aim to feel a bit out of breath but can still talk.
To give it an extra boost, add some walking lunges. This is where you step forward into a lunge, rise up and swing the back leg through for the next lunge so you travel forwards.
Next, pick a point about 30 metres in front of you, lunge to that point and then do 20 star jumps. Repeat this at least every five minutes during your walk and you’ll get your heart rate up!
Try Mel Kent’s muscle workout…
Split squats x8 each leg
Take a long stride forward and transfer your weight onto the front leg, leaving the toe of the back foot down. Ensure toes point forwards and drop the back knee. Return to standing.
Single-leg glute bridge x 8 each leg
Lie on your back with knees bent, straighten one leg and lift it slightly off the floor. Make sure your lower back is gently pushed into the floor and then raise your hips by squeezing your bottom. Lower and repeat.
Press-ups x 8
Do full version or on your knees.
Seated band row x 8
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front. Sling a resistance band around a sturdy object. Hold it with straight arms. Pull your shoulder blades back and down and follow through by bringing your elbows into your sides.
… and also Mel’s super stretch!
Lunge forward and put hands on the ground in front of you, inside your leg, leaving the other leg extended behind you. Hold 3 secs.
Lift and bend the arm on the forward leg side, dropping the elbow down towards the floor just inside of your leg. Hold 3 secs.
Reach the same arm to the ceiling, twisting through your upper back. Hold for 3 secs.
Return to centre and drop the back knee to the ground. Come up so you are in a straight line from knee to head and the forward leg is at 90˚. Squeeze your bottom tightly for a stretch through your hip and thigh. Hold for 3 secs.
Sit onto your back foot so that the other leg is extended in front of you and place hands on the ground for support. Hold 3 secs.
Alternate each side 3 times.