The holidays leave us over-scheduled and under-rested, jolting us out of our normal eating and exercise routines just when we need them the most. “Don’t chuck all efforts until after January 1,” says trainer Cathy Moxley, MA, author of The Busy Mom’s Ultimate Fitness Guide. Instead, just modify what you normally do, creating a variation of it that works. There are opportunities to sneak in exercise around every corner. And here’s a little gift for you: Exercise is cumulative, so three 10-minute bouts are as good as 30 minutes at one time!
The Circuit Workout You Can Do Anywhere
Short on time? No room in your suitcase for fitness equipment? No problem! You can create a quick, effective five-move circuit workout wherever you are, Moxley says. Tailor the circuit to your fitness level: Beginners, go through once, doing each move for 30 seconds; intermediate and advanced can do each move for 60 seconds and perform the circuit multiple times. What makes a circuit workout effective is that you stay active the entire time, and you switch muscle groups back and forth — so you get a total-body workout.
Move #1: Tabletop Push-Up
Stand about four feet away from either a countertop, bar top or dining table. Place your hands flat on the surface and lean forward so your shoulders are aligned over your wrists and your body is in a straight line (you don’t want your rear end sticking up or your belly arched and sagging). Keeping your body in this straight line (and your abs pulled in), bend then straighten your elbows.
Move #2: Staircase Step-Up
Do continuous step-ups on the first step of a staircase with an up-up, down-down rhythm; move at a moderate to fast pace (enough to get your heart rate up). Ideally, you’ll have a banister or wall for support; if not, move slowly until you get the rhythm.
Move #3: Chair Dip
Sit on the edge of a kitchen chair (or on the side of a firm bed) with your hands on either side of you, palms flat and fingertips facing forward. Lift your weight onto your hands as you take a few steps out, keeping your knees bent and your rear end a few inches off the floor. Using the strength of your arms (you’ll feel it in your triceps), lift yourself up and down (like backward push-ups).
Move #4: Walking Lunge
Stand with feet together. Step right foot in front (about two to three feet) into a lunge position — your right knee should be aligned over your right ankle and your left knee should be bent behind you, just a few inches away from the floor. From this position, push off your back (left) leg and bring it to meet your front leg as you straighten both. Repeat, this time starting with the left foot. As you “walk” with each lunge, you’ll travel forward. If you don’t have space to travel forward, just alternate your right and left leg, and instead of pushing off to move forward, push to come back to stand in your original spot.
Move #5: Plank Hold
Lie facedown on the floor with your toes turned up and your elbows bent under your shoulders, hands either flat to the floor or curled into fists. Press your forearms and toes into the floor as you lift into a plank (push-up) position on your forearms. Keep your body in a straight line from shoulders to feet — don’t let your rear end lift up or your belly sag — and hold (making sure to breathe).
Smart Ways to Sneak in Your Exercise
You may not have 30 minutes to set aside for working out, but you have lots of little opportunities throughout the day to work in some fitness. Turn leisure activities or household chores into exercise, says Heather Nettle, MA, coordinator of exercise physiology services for the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Center. “Whatever you are doing, do it purposefully,” Nettle says. Here are a few ways to blend exercise with holiday chores:
- Do a 30-second plank hold after every third present you wrap.
- Do kitchen counter push-ups while waiting for water to boil or cookies to cool.
- Retrieving holiday decorations from the basement? Run up and down the stairs an extra time in between each trip.
- While shopping, take indirect routes through the mall; if you keep it at a power walk pace, it shouldn’t take you any longer.
- When dusting top shelves or mantels, do a set of calf raises.
- To help get tension out of your neck and shoulders while working on holiday projects (like writing greeting cards), yoga teacher Kate Hanley, author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity, recommends the following: Stand up with feet hip distance apart and lift your arms out and up over your head, reaching your fingers and the top of your head as high as you can as you let your shoulder blades fall down your back (not up near your ears, which only intensifies tension in the neck and shoulders). “Stay for five breaths, concentrating on making your torso as tall possible,” she says. This pose, which Hanley calls Stand Up, Arms Up, creates more space for your lungs to inflate fully. It deepens your breathing (which promotes relaxation), lets you take in more oxygen (which is energizing) and subtly strengthens the muscles of your core.
Start Healthy Holiday Traditions
Holidays are all about tradition, so why not begin a few healthy holiday traditions, Nettle suggests. Getting kids involved is always a great idea — not only does it set a good example for them, but also kids naturally have more energy, so spending time with them (and letting them set the pace) can really energize us.
Here are five traditions to start at your house this holiday season.
Start a Snow Olympics
Create your own Winter Olympic Games. After all, if the white stuff is piling up outside, you might as well make the best of it! Building a snowman or a snow fort, shoveling snow, having a snowball fight or playing tag in the snow are all good calorie burners.
Take an After-Dinner (or Morning) Walk
Instead of retiring to the living room after dinner, get everyone together for a group walk to look at holiday lights. Too cold and dark after dinner? Then make it a morning tradition (it’s an especially perfect day-after-Thanksgiving tradition). A long family walk before breakfast can be a great way to start the day and bring everyone together.
Partake in a Good Old-Fashioned Team Challenge
With new games like Wii Fit, it’s easier than ever to make exercise fun! But even if you don’t have a fancy gaming system, you can create a lower-tech version, Nettle says. Family dance time, a game of follow the leader or a game of Twister (yes, it’s still around) can all be giggle-inducing workouts.
Go on an Outing
Kids never get sick of classics like ice-skating, which is a pretty darn good workout for adults too, Nettle says. Ice skates are inexpensive to rent, and even if it’s seriously frosty outside, there are plenty of indoor rinks. Sledding, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing are all good cardio workouts, with plenty of fun.
Take a Class
The holidays are a nice time to pamper ourselves, but you can expand your definition of pampering to include healing physical activity, like yoga or Pilates. Gather your female relatives (mom, mother-in-law, sisters) and instead of heading to the spa, head to the gym and take a yoga class together.