The holidays can be a stressful time for those with fitness goals: the season’s festivities brings about rich foods, cocktails, and late nights. While we absolutely believe you should relax and enjoy yourself this time of year, it’s important to keep your health in mind as well. 

As is the case with so many things, the key to a healthy and enjoyable holidays season is all about finding the balance. Below are some suggestions for how to that at this busy – but oh so fun! – time of year.

How to enjoy the holidays while keeping your health on track

EXERCISE

While there is benefit from taking time off from exercise every now and then, the goal isn’t to do nothing on those days. Instead, aim for active rest days, which is when you still make a point of incorporating movement into your day, even though you’re not engaging in. 

For example: a scheduled run, a vinyasa yoga class, or a workout with your Nielsen Fitness trainer would be considered structured exercise. On the other hand, a coffee run with a co-worker, a game of pick-up basketball with your friends, or an afternoon of sledding with your family can be considered active rest. This is because you are participating in a healthy amount of physical activity without necessarily trying to achieve a specific goal. This is a fantastic way to stay moving while still feeling like you’re on a break. If you’re nervous about falling off the exercise wagon over the holidays, try incorporating active rest days into your December routine!

As personal trainers, we do everything we can to support the achievement of your fitness goals, but your overall health and wellbeing will always come first. Don’t feel guilty about taking a bit of time off structured workouts, and don’t forget that it takes 2-3 weeks of detraining to even begin losing progress. The key is for that rest to be intentional – and to have a plan to get back at it when your holiday is over. That said, many people feel best if they continue with structured exercise throughout their holidays, which we are here to support through virtual training!

NUTRITION

All the extra (sweet and rich!) food that’s on offer around the holidays can be anxiety inducing for many who are on a fitness journey, especially those with weight-loss goals. While we definitely advocate for indulging selectively intentionally (meaning choosing the things that you love and will enjoy the most), it is absolutely ok to break with your regular eating patterns at this time of year. 

A couple of weeks’ worth of extra calories will not derail your progress. Serious “weight gain often occurs gradually over decades” (Harvard Health, 2011), as the storage of unnecessary fat is the result of consistent excess intake over an extended period of time. If it looks like you’ve gained a pound or two after a couple of parties, it’s likely water retention and possibly inflammation from the extra intake of carbohydrates and alcohol. This will all but disappear as soon as you return to your normal routine. 

That said, if you’re finding it hard to say no or feel like you lose control around certain foods, you could be leaning too far into a restrictive mindset. In a recent article on healthy holidays, Sarah Hays Coomer, Mayo Clinic and National Board certified health coach and personal trainer, stated that “deprivation leads to backlash, so, if we’re always about what we can’t do, then we lash out.” In other words, what goes up must come down; if you swing too far one way, you’re bound to swing an equal amount back. Rather than telling yourself you can’t have anything at all, allow yourself to have the things that you really enjoy. If you consume them mindfully – and without guilt – odds are you’ll feel satisfied. This is healthy! Trust yourself and trust your instincts.

REST

Exercise and diet aside, the holidays and the new year are a great time to check in. We encourage you to take some time to yourself: assess and reflect on how you’re feeling, ask yourself how you can improve, and celebrate your successes. A recharge period is pivotal to long-term health, as balanced living is an ongoing practice that will grow and change across the entirety of your lifetime. Taking some downtime is also a great opportunity to reflect on what is working for you and what isn’t – so you can prioritize what’s most important and forget the rest once the new year rolls around. 

FINAL WORDS

No matter how you choose to celebrate, the holidays are a wonderful time to take extra care of yourself and your loved ones. Whether you’re on a weight-loss journey or you’re training for your first race, don’t feel guilty about partaking in the season’s joys. Health is about balance, not restriction: eat the cookies and sleep in! Your trainer will be waiting for you on the other side 😉 

On that note, we offer in-person training in Toronto, Collingwood, Hamilton and Ottawa, Ontario, and virtual training anywhere. First workouts are zero pressure and always free – contact us to get the ball rolling!