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Exercise Your Way Through The Holidays

Posted: December 16, 2011

Holiday time is a difficult time when it comes to maintaining our weight and preventing that dreaded weight gain. Between the holiday gatherings and home-baked goodies, we really have to work hard to squeeze that exercise and physical activity into our busy days.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a moderate level or 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level.  Try to spread the activity out over 3 – 5 days each week.  Adults should also include strengthening exercises, like push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights, at least 2 days a week.

Now you are probably wondering where you can find this kind of time when you have gifts to purchase, cards to address and cookies to bake.  Let me give you some ways you can work physical activity into your seasonal festivities.  First, when you are shopping, use the mall’s stairs, not the escalator or elevator.  Enjoy household tasks that make the season glitter:  decorating the house, polishing silver, kneading holiday bread dough, chopping firewood.  Decorate outdoors.  With kids, drape cranberry and popcorn chains on evergreens to feed the birds.  For ornaments, roll pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed.  Consider it a gift to the birds.  Put action into family gatherings.  After your meal, organize some active fun.  Some of our family favorites include a group walk, touch football, and sledding if the weather cooperates.  Other choices could be a hike on a local trail, caroling through the neighborhood, and building a snowman or snow fort, snowshoeing or skiing if the weather permits.  Another idea is to sneak in a fitness stop between your holiday shopping and errands.  Stop at your favorite fitness center or spa for a 30-minute workout or a 10-minute sauna.

Just moving around will burn some of those extra calories, relieve some of the holiday stress, help your food digest and just make you feel so much better.

Remember, active living can be fit “in between”.   Ten minutes of activity done three or four times during your day can make a difference.  Do whatever matches your skill and interest.  If you don’t consider yourself athletic, do what “moves” you:  an active hobby, home repairs, even walking the dog.  Walking is probably the most convenient activity to do because you can walk anywhere.  Walk around the parking lot at lunchtime, down the hall, or in a park.  Work up from slow walking to moderate walking to brisk walking.  March in place, swinging your arms, while you watch your favorite TV program.  Moving will boost your energy and release tension.  Plus regular physical activity lowers your risk for many health problems.

You can also promote physical activity in the gifts you give family and friends.  Give a gift certificate for a fitness club membership, a sports equipment store or a community fitness class.  Give active toys.  For kids, in-line skates or ice skates, balls, bicycles and sleds are great gifts.  Teens and adults might like exercise gadgets like exercise videos, a pedometer, a jazzy water bottle or gym equipment.  Don’t forget safety equipment like helmets, reflectors for clothing or knee and elbow pads.  Plan a family adventure where you might rent snowshoes or cross country skis to enjoy in a nearby park.  Or give the whole family just one big gift:  a ski trip or a getaway for a warm-weather activity.

The 30 minutes of daily physical activity you need to keep fit may be the perfect antidote for relieving seasonal stress and weight gain.  What will you do to make physical activity and exercise a priority this holiday season?

Nancy Routch, RD, LDN

Penn State Extension – Cumberland County