Winter is a notoriously difficult time to exercise as outdoor activities are restricted and the lure of the fire, eggnog and turkey prove too tempting to resist. However, there are still ways you can keep that Christmas paunch at bay and reduce the need for wild and unreasonable New Year’s resolutions that you just can’t keep.
The average American Joe or Josephine consumes around 7,000 calories on Christmas Day. Given that the average calorie consumption per day for Americans was 2,500 in 2010, this is quite a significant increase and marked spike in consumption.
Of course, good health is just as much a mental exercise as a physical one, and this is an aspect that shouldn’t be neglected when aiming for a healthy body.
That being said, here are eight ways you can keep you mind and body in balance over the impending festive period.
1. Eat Well
‘Eat well’ is often confused with ‘eat heartily’, which is almost a given during the holiday period, but here the focus is on eating in moderation.
There’s nothing wrong with a healthy portion on Christmas Day — after all, turkey is a lean meat and it usually comes served with a plethora of vegetables — but try to stick to regular portion sizes and reduce the amount of snacking between meals.
Overeating can lead to sluggishness, which in turn reduces the amount you move, so this can be a compounding spiral in failing to maintain balance within the body: if you feel heavy and bloated, how likely are you to throw on a pair of shorts and strut along to a Zumba exercise video?
This is not to say you can’t enjoy yourself. Have that extra glass of wine; eat that leftover roast potato. Just be aware of your body’s signals when it tells you that it’s had enough.
One very simple way to manage weight is to reduce the amount of sugar you consume. This can be more difficult at Christmas time, what with candies, chocolate and alcohol in abundance. But even reducing the number of processed foods you eat will have a direct effect on the amount of sugar you consume.
Even so, weight loss alone isn’t the reason why you should eat healthily. In fact, there are far more serious underlying conditions which can be triggered by eating badly, such as heart disease and diabetes. So while it may be tempting to reach for that second pack of chocolates this Christmas Day, it may be worth holding back and saving them for another day.
2. Sleep Well
Your body responds to routine and quantity when it comes to sleep, so it’s important to maintain your usual sleeping habits during the festive period where possible. This isn’t to say that you should be in bed at 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve, but seven to nine hours’ sleep per night is important to ensure your body feels rested and you have the energy to make the most of each festive day.
Lack of sleep causes you to crave more food and inhibits insulin production. With your body’s glucose production at its highest in the early hours of the morning, missing even just a few hours can have a big impact on your waistline.
If regular sleep is simply impossible, remember that napping has significant benefits too, as outlined in our sleep post. It improves function and is a much better alternative to coffee, even if that coffee comes with a lick of whiskey. Just be sure not to oversleep in the day as this can negatively affect your nighttime sleep.
3. Exercise Well
Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel great, so even if you hate doing it, you will feel better afterwards. It’s also been proven that exercise reduces stress and helps you sleep better, so if you’re using Christmas as a time to switch off and recover, some exercise may actually be of great benefit to you.
How much is enough? According to one fitness instructor, just 30 minutes a day is enough; and if 30 minutes feels like too much, it’s okay to break it down into three ten-minute chunks done throughout the day to make it feel more manageable.
What should you do? For this, you need to find the activity that suits you best. Some people go for runs, others use fitness videos available online, and others simply go for a short walk. For others, yoga is a great way to exercise and stretch without feeling unnecessarily frenetic.
While Christmas is a time to switch off from normal life, don’t switch off from what your body needs: movement.
4. Keep Hydrated
We often drink more alcohol at Christmas, and this naturally leads to dehydration. Coupled with late nights and salty foods, this can be a potent cocktail.
Dehydration is often confused with hunger and so we respond by eating more instead of quenching our thirst with a glass of water. In addition, because we feel like we’re drinking lots already, we don’t drink our recommended eight glasses of water a day, which exacerbates the problem.
Remember that water is a vital part of your diet this Christmas. If you can, try to drink a glass before a meal. This can help reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating while keeping you hydrated.
5. Stick to a Routine
Routine helps optimize the body’s functions, be it with exercise, sleeping or eating. Regular exercise helps condition the body and makes you feel happier and healthier. Regular, consistent sleep on the other hand, helps the body coordinate the release of hormones and manage stress, which in turns helps reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Also, eating consistent portion sizes with plenty of fruit and vegetables helps keep the body healthy, trim and effective at protecting against viruses and other illnesses.
While maintaining a routine may not seem like much fun, the long-term effects are certainly beneficial. We all break routines once in a while, particularly around the holidays. However, while you may abandon some of your sleeping habits as you spend time with loved ones, there’s no reason to abandon all your exercise and portion management habits.
6. Try New Things
While routine is essential, so is stimulation. In response to local lockdowns, many people across the world have taken up new habits or hobbies in order to waylay the boredom.
However, there’s no reason why this mentality has to be restricted to a coronavirus response. Trying new things and taking up new hobbies stimulates the mind and causes the brain to make new connections. Instead of sitting in front of Netflix watching Santa Claus movies with a bag of chips, why not try something new? Play a new game with family or friends, whether in person or online, take up a new hobby using something that was gifted to you, or even try a new exercise you’ve never attempted before.
7. Plan Ahead
This applies to food and exercise. Christmas can be a stressful time for people who have to accommodate family, relatives and friends in order to keep everyone happy, and it’s in this cluster of chaos that having some certainty helps to maintain peace of mind and reduce stress.
Planning both your food choices and exercise windows in advance can significantly reduce stress and help you manage yours and your family’s health. For example, if you plan to get up 15 minutes earlier every day so you can work out, do yoga or meditate, this can ensure you stay positive and centered throughout the day.
The same applies to food choice. If you have a plan for your day, it makes it easier to stick to healthy options instead of being swept along by the stress of a manic family visit and either falling into the comforting pages of the takeout menu or stress eating.
8. Don’t Give Up!
Christmas is a joy to many, but it can be a difficult time for some. Whether you hate the cold, struggle with self-discipline or just love to lounge around on the couch for a week, you can still make small choices that help how you feel throughout the Christmas period.
Even if you have one day where you don’t feel like you’ve made a single healthy choice, don’t throw in the towel just yet by eating a kilogram of chocolate or guzzling a gallon of wine. Each day is a new day and a new opportunity to live that little bit healthier. Why wait for the New Year when you can start today?