With mince pies and Christmas pudding tempting us at every turn, and long holiday flights being inevitable for some, it’s easy to feel unfit and worn out this time of year. Check out our expert advice on how to stay fit and stress-free during this holiday season.
Christmas is a time of extra responsibility and a radical shift from our normal patterns. Tiredness, lack of exercise and overindulgence in alcohol, food, and socialising all contribute to increased levels of stress and reduced levels of fitness. Combined with travel and exposure to large groups of people, our immune systems can break down, leaving us susceptible to colds and flu, not to mention the impact on our emotional wellbeing.
How can you stay fit and stress-free during the festive season?
Here, Heather Thomas Shalabi, Director of Flex in Hong Kong, offers her top exercise tips to help you prepare for the festivities, recover from long flights, and even help aid digestion after that big turkey meal:
It might seem obvious, but with all the socialising around the holidays, dryer weather and air travel, our bodies become extremely dehydrated, magnifying the effects of our indulgences such as drinking alcohol, eating saltier foods (all those canapes!) and jet lag, among others. I try to follow a rule on planes – never drink alcohol and keep food consumption to a minimum. I even bring my own herbal tea bags on long-hauls to keep me going, as water gets extremely boring over the duration of a flight. Upon arriving at a party, start with sparkling water instead of a glass of bubbly, and alternate your glasses of water and wine. It will make a tremendous difference! Get into the habit of carrying your own water bottle around with you wherever you go, and you’ll be amazed at how much more water you consume during the day.
You might wonder how you can fit exercise into the busy holiday period, but my general rule of thumb is stick to the one thing you LOVE to do and commit to it. Focus on reserving even 20-30 minutes out of your day to do the exercise you love the most – whether it’s Sun Salutations, a quick run, stetching or deep breathing. Whatever it is, do it 5-6 times per week and be fully involved – turn off your phone, turn on your headphones and GO! The Christmas tree won’t collapse and the presents WILL get wrapped, regardless.
How can I do this away from home/normal studios?
My other tip is to pack the one little piece of equipment that can facilitate your holiday workout plan and help you stick to it: your yoga travel mat, your running shoes (forget the fancy running kit – just bring the shoes and GO!), your Trigger Point Therapy ball, your Theraband, whatever it is! These are all small, light and immensely useful. Be sure you unpack them and leave them in a visible place. Same if you are at home for the holidays – keep your item by your bed or visibly in your room (don’t let them get “tidied up!”). Believe me, I’ve seen the psychology of this many times and the visual reminder can work wonders. Too often out of sight does mean out of mind.
What is the best exercise to deal with holiday stress?
I can recommend two different strategies for dealing with stress: on the one hand, deep breathing and yoga pranayama techniques are amazing for calming the mind, and some pranayama can also stimulate metabolism! On the opposite extreme, high intensity interval training – short cardio bursts where you go full out for a set period of time, then rest, repeat cardio burst, and so on, really rev the metabolism and create a thermogenic fat burning effect in the body.
But these extremes may not be for everyone. The last thing you want to do around the holidays is make exercise a source of stress! Stick to what you enjoy and know (and can follow a routine independently if you can’t make it to class), and you’ll stay on track.
Moderate Your Menus
We all have family favorite recipes passed down from generation to generation that no holiday would be complete without. Most of the time, they are unfortunately laden with fats and sugars (is that why they taste go good?!) and other than serving as nostalgia, truly do our bodies no good. Why not try to supplement tried and true faves with healthy sides for a better balance in your holiday diet? Try some new recipes, and you just might surprise yourself with how good healthy can taste! For example, prepare the turkey the traditional way, but instead of a fat laden stuffing, try a healthy alternative baked separately from the bird. Be sure to prepare a large green salad and serve it first, to take the edge off your hunger before diving into the mashed potatoes. One of my favorites is a lovely chopped kale salad with toasted pecans and dried cranberries on top – super tasty, and looks sooo festive on the table! Try to have just one dessert option, and skip a la mode. There’s no need to deprive yourself of a delicious meal of celebration shared among friends and family, but a few smarter choices around what you eat can go a long way.
What are the benefits of maintaining a discipline of hydration, exercise and mindful eating over the holidays?
Exercise and eating right will of course keep your body toned and mind calm during the holidays, but from my own perspective the psychology of staying fit at the end of the year is critical for setting you up for success at the beginning of the year. There’s nothing worse than undoing your Autumn months of hard work just to blow it all during holiday season (is it worth it!!?), leaving you back at ground zero on January 1st. Wouldn’t it be great to have already achieved your New Year’s resolution on the first of the year instead? That way, you can set an exciting new intention at the beginning of the year with fresh dedication and excitement. It really can be done, and it feels soooo good.