Even if you love to exercise (and I hope you do) and you’ve got a ship-shape exercise regimen in the best of times, you are all too aware how tricky it can be to take the same amount of time to exercise during the holiday season.
So for many of us, it’s exercise that falls off the holiday to-do list. The result? The 1-2 punch of having feelings of regret if you’re eating more and exercising less and missing the endorphin rush you get from exercise to help you navigate and manage said feelings of regret and any other holiday-related stress.
The last thing you want to do is take too much time off from your regular exercise routine because you know how hard it can be to get back out there. That’s where taking shortcuts and devising some clever workarounds can be handy.
Here are my favorite hacks for exercising through the holiday season (and other busy times, too).
1. Get social. If you aren’t using fitness apps to track your workouts, do it now. I’m a huge fan of the Under Armour suite of fitness apps, in particular MapMyFitness, which collects your exercise stats during a workout, for example, while you are walking or running, or after the fact where you can log what you did. If you took a yoga class, for example, or worked out on the elliptical, you can log that and the app will calculate anything you tell it to keep track of, including calories burned based on your profile. Then you can share your workout automatically with people you’ve friended on the app or with members of the public. People can “like” your workout, and I know it sounds ridiculous, because at the age of 59, I typically don’t give a shit about seeking approval or validation from others, but I never seem to outgrow giving or receiving praise. Who knew.
Then go and share your workout on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or on all three and use the hashtags #werunsocial and #fitspo (there are others, too, and you’ll find ones you like). If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to be uncomfortable. Do it anyway. You’ll get a flood of “likes” and encouragement from everyone else out there trying to exercise during the holidays, which will inspire you to keep exercising, even for a few minutes, and allow you to inspire others. Now that feels good.
I track my nutrition using MyFitnessPal, which syncs with my workouts and gives me a snapshot of my macronutrients and tracks my calories. During the holidays especially, I log what I intend to eat at a party. That way I know how many calories I’ve got to play with the rest of the day.
Another tip: Park far away from your destination and keep a spare pair of running shoes in the trunk of your car. (If you ask my podiatrist, he’ll tell you it’s counterproductive to walk even a few blocks in high heels.) Set the app on “walk” and go. If you’re like me and your outfit is all about the shoes, though, carry them in a stylish and light tote bag and slip them on just before arriving at your destination.
2. Get new gear. Some of the best fitness wear discounters are having crazy sales right now so you can afford to buy one for them and one for you. Lately I’m all about Dick’s, Jimmy Jazz, and JackRabbit. If your winters are cold, try out Under Armour’s Cold Gear to get you through an early morning walk underneath Nike’s Therma Sphere Element 1/2 Zip. Tech wear feels great on the skin and looks snazzy on everyone, even you. And be sure to leave your exercise clothes out where you can see them. For example, if you plan to exercise in the morning, they should be the first things you spot after turning off your alarm. My bedroom is over the garage so if I’m crawling out of a warm bed with flannel sheets, I’ve only got two seconds to jump into my workout clothes and head downstairs for coffee.
Another tip: I don’t like the taste of coffee after brushing my teeth so I leave a toothbrush in the kitchen. That way I can brush after my coffee without having to head back upstairs to my bedroom and resist climbing back into bed before walking out the door.
3. Tabata. I know, what? I had to look it up, too. Tabata is a form of high-intensity interval training, lasting 4 minutes, and I promise you, your holiday BFF. Yes, 4 minutes, as in 4 minutes. The name “Tabata” comes from the Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata who first developed the short workout. There are tons of challenging Tabata workouts out there, but remember, we’re looking for shortcuts here. I use the app Totally Tabata to do one or two Tabata rounds just before going to bed, either on a day I wasn’t able to fit in any meaningful exercise or if I’ve eaten too much and feel like crap. I don’t have trouble sleeping after exercise, and in fact the latest research shows you won’t either. The idea is to workout hard for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds, completing 8 rounds. You can choose any exercise and even mix it up. Typically I do mountain climbers, but I also like push ups, and flutter kicks while lying on my back. I’ve also used the Totally Tabata app to do a 4-minute upper body workout using hand weights. You can set the app to use music on your phone or you can go without. The app uses bells to tell you when to rest and when to workout. My goal is to do one 4-minute round, but sometimes I fit in 2 rounds. Yes, that’s 8 minutes.
Another tip: You can sync Totally Tabata with MyFitnessPal so you can get credit for the calories burned.
4. Take it down a notch. Sure you want to kill it during all of your workouts, but let’s be real. During the holidays, when you’re trying to fit everything in, do you have time to wash and blow dry your hair every single day? Take some of your workouts to the gym where you slow it down and do online shopping.
My favorite spot is on the recumbent bike, where I’m strengthening the muscles around my knees as well as my core, but I’m also using my free hands to take advantage of the WiFi to do my holiday shopping, either for gifts or for buying gift giving supplies, such as cookie tins and food-safe wax paper. I also use that time to look for recipes and catch up on blogs, including kitchn, Smitten Kitchen, and Running 4 Real.
Another tip: If you do get sweaty, try using dry shampoo. Because my hair is treated with keratin, I’ve had good success with Caviar Sheer Dry Shampoo by Alterna. It’s pricey, so if you aren’t picky, stop into Alta or Sephora and see which ones appeal to you.
5. Sign up for a holiday race to support a good cause. If it’s your first race, find a 5K walk/run. Look for jingle bell races or to get the New Year off to a great start, try a short run on New Year’s Day. I’d be shocked if you don’t totally enjoy the party atmosphere of races and dig the support of race volunteers and neighbors who cheer you on. To find races near you, check out active.com or use the Runners World Race Finder.
Another tip: If you absolutely refuse to sign up for a race, sign up to volunteer! On top of reaping the mental health benefits of helping others, known as the helper high, you’ll do a fair amount of standing and running around yourself. So there!
6. Have fun. No, I mean it. During the holidays, only do the kind of exercise you truly enjoy. If running is hard for you and you dread it (even if you feel AWESOME after) choose to do something you’re good at and that works for your personality type. For example, if you’re an extrovert, take more group classes; if you’re naturally flexible and good at yoga, focus on that. Research shows that while achieving weight loss and good health may motivate you to exercise, you’ll be more consistent if you gravitate toward activities you enjoy. Find out what you love to do and go for it. Lifting weights? So be it. You can go back to your more structured training after the holidays when there aren’t so many demands on your time.
Another tip: My sister-in-law pulled me aside at a party recently and whispered that one of the main reasons why she looks forward to exercising is that it gives her a solid hour to listen to music. “I know that sounds crazy,” she said, “but I haven’t listened to music like that since I was in high school blaring the Grateful Dead from my stereo speakers in my bedroom!” Not crazy and backed up by research. Music is good for you and it can enhance your workout. Not sure where to start? You can find my workout playlists on Spotify or on Apple Music.
Carolee Belkin Walker is the author of Getting My Bounce Back, out in February 2018, and the host of My Brain on Endorphins, available on Stitcher and iTunes.