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Staying Fit During the Holidays

Updated on January 7, 2018

With each passing year, I hope to approach the holidays with more discipline, temperance and moderation. Is this possible without losing the warmth and goodwill that accompanies them? What about parties, concerts, visiting friends, baking, writing cards and mailing packages? Where can I possibly find the time, not to mention the motivation, to work out? Isn't the joy of holidays inexorably linked with breaking routine to make time for our loved ones, friends and special activities?

For most of us, the answer is yes. However, years of splurging on holiday treats and sprawling in cozy chairs before a warm fire has taught me a lesson: my hard-won fitness and desired weight disappear frighteningly fast. January 1st arrives with the cold reality of my epicurean sins.

For this reason, I aim to keep myself in check during these dangerous times. Knowing myself as I do, it's unlikely that I will be leaping out of bed on Christmas morning to run five miles. Nor will my Jane Fonda aerobics tapes hold a candle to "It's a Wonderful Life" and a cup of hot cocoa. But I plan, nevertheless, to make physical activity a priority despite the seductions of the season.

The good news is, studies show even leisure activity can help in the fight against heart disease. Taking a walk with your family and friends can burn up to 200 calories an hour. Snowshoeing, roller-blading, and ice-skating can burn as many as 400 - 500 calories an hour. Party animals can dance more than 300 calories away hourly and raise their heart rate to more than 75 percent of its maximum. Engaging in any of these activities at least once daily can help lower your LDL (the "bad") cholesterol and raise HDL (the "good") cholesterol.

Minimalists can eek by with a mere thirty minutes of physical activity each day and still reap cardiovascular benefits. Of course, researchers tell us that more is better. Forty-five minutes to an hour of vigorous aerobic activity such as brisk walking or running burns fat, reduces risk for diabetes, and improves blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Consider the following when planning your holidays:

1) Combine physical activity with friends and family. (Instead of a party at home, plan a hike through the woods, a walk in the neighborhood, or caroling!)

2) Modify your fitness routine; don't postpone it.

3) Take a few brisk spins around the mall before or after you've shopped.

4) Choose physical activity over sedentary pursuits. (If you're an on-line shopper, consider shopping in town where you can walk.)

5) When winter weather precludes your outdoor fitness routine, use the mall for walking or a gym to workout.

6) Start the day with exercise.

7) Walk with co-workers during lunch breaks.

8) Ride a bike or walk for errands where and when weather permits.

9) Park as far from your office, the shopping mall or town center as possible, then walk to your destination.

10) Remember that amidst the festivities and excitement of the holidays, the most precious gift you can give yourself, your family and friends is your good health. Exercise can help you restore, achieve or maintain it.

Because exercise burns fat and calories, feeds the brain with endorphins and energizes the body, it is a reliable source of protection against the most common holiday maladies: weight gain, holiday blues and fatigue. This is a plus for the heart-conscious, since obesity and stress contribute to cardiovascular ills.

Although the holidays come and go, I'm determined to keep my fitness from following suit. So bring on the merrymaking, but keep it moving!

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