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Conquer Your Holiday Fitness Challenges

Keeping your weight in check during the festivity-filled days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be a struggle. Cookie platters and cheese trays lurk behind every corner. Plus jam-packed holiday schedules can interfere with your regular fitness routine.

Still, there are ways to squeeze in a workout so that come January, you’re not faced with a few extra pounds and lapsed exercise habits that require lots of physical and mental energy to revamp.

“First, identify a specific, motivating goal and let that guide you,” says Rona Lewis, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer who also trains clients online. If, for example, you want to lose 20 pounds by your 50th birthday in February, keep that goal top of mind as you’re attending holiday parties by writing it down and posting it in visible spot. Your goal might be to just maintain your weight over the holidays, or even to just keeping going to the gym at least three times per week. “Your goal doesn’t even have to be fitness related, but it should be one that helps keep you on track during the feeding frenzy,” Lewis says.

Beyond that, here’s what Lewis suggests for staying in the exercise game during the holiday season in spite of the following fitness obstacles.

HOLIDAY HURDLE: You’re too tired to workout from partying and shopping
On days when swear you’re too tired to workout, Lewis advises pushing through your exhaustion and exercising anyway. Sound impossible? Not if you remind yourself of your goal and this physiological fact: Exercise creates energy. “Working out makes you feel more energetic because it draws fuel to your muscles,” says Lewis. “It also makes you feel better because it raises the level of serotonin in your brain, a chemical that’s associated with a heightened feeling of wellbeing.”

Or, pre-emptively strike by working out before going shopping or attending a party, so that it’s done and out of the way, she advises.

HOLIDAY HURDLE: You’re traveling a lot
Whether you’re taking a trip to be with your family or enjoying a winter vacation, the holidays are a big travel time. To stay disciplined when you’re away from home and your normal routine, keep your goal in mind and take your workout on the road.

“Resistance bands don’t take up much room in a suitcase, and the exercises you do with them in your hotel or guest room can simulate weight training,” says Lewis. Waiting time at airports is also a perfect opportunity to go for a long walk. “You can also do rear leg lifts while waiting in line or get out of your seat and do walking lunges while flying,” says Lewis. “Everything adds up and helps you stay fitness focused,” she says.

HOLIDAY HURDLE: You’ve got too much to do and no time to exercise
During the holidays, your to-do list can balloon, and it feels like there’s less time to get through it. “But there’s always time to do something for yourself, even if you just take your lunch hour and go for a walk,” Lewis says. If you’re really time crunched, do your workout, but cut it short. “Even if you exercise half as long as you normally do, you’ll stay in the habit of exercising and you’ll be motivated to make healthy choices throughout the holiday season,” she says. Also, give yourself credit for all you do; after all, shopping counts as exercise. Wear a pedometer if you want solid feedback and aim for 10,000 steps per day.

Another option: Exercise the first thing in the morning. “If you can get up a half hour to an hour earlier in the morning and get your workout in, you’ll feel so good because you’ll know that no matter how busy your day gets, your exercise is taken care of,” says Lewis.

HOLIDAY HURDLE: Bah Hum Bug–Negative thinking
A defeatist attitude, such as ‘I’ve already blown it, so I might as well just call off my fitness program until January,’ is easy to fall prey to with all the forces of the holidays seemingly conspiring against you. Don’t listen to such negative self-talk. “If you over-indulge during the holidays or skip your workout, tell yourself that you haven’t ruined everything. Tomorrow, you’ll just get right back on track, and do it,” Lewis says.

To compensate for the extra calories, go ahead and exercise a little more the next day, if you want to. But don’t exercise longer than an hour. If you do, your body will be forced to burn muscle for fuel, which can slow down your metabolism. “To increase your caloric output, increase the intensity of your workout by, for example, running instead of walking, for less than 60 minutes,” Lewis says.

Also, keep in mind that a splurge here and there actually stokes your metabolism, revving your calorie burn. “When you overindulge occasionally, you temporarily speed up your metabolism, which goes into overdrive to compensate for the calorie onslaught,” says Lewis. A party every five or six days might actually do your metabolism some good. “Just don’t splurge every day, and make it a planned splurge,” says Lewis, by limiting it to the thing you really want, such as a small piece of Irish cream cheesecake, or a cup of creamy eggnog. An important fact to remember is that it takes 72 hours for the foods you ingest to turn to fat, so if you DO overindulge, cut your calories in ½ for 2 days following or increase your exercise. Bottom line…3,500 calories equal a pound. Eat 500 calories less per day or burn that much more and you’ll lose. Eat that much more and, well, you get the picture.

Sandra Gordon spoke with Rona Lewis, a Los Angeles-based and online personal trainer. For more information about her training services, visit www.ronafitness.com.

Rona Lewis

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