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Beat the Holiday Spread: Exercise and Health During the Festive Season

‘Tis the season for indulgence. And more often than not, over-indulgence. Exercise and clean eating tend to fade into the rearview mirror as the holiday season spools up.

Of course, you’ll get back into a fitness regime—as soon as the excess of Dec. 31 turns into the resolution of Jan 1.

But why not keep up the good work while you are indulging? A more flexible holiday regimen gives you a little wiggle room to indulge and prepares you to get into post-indulgence mode.

Mind Over Matter

Psychology is probably one of the biggest hurdles to keeping your fitness regimen going—and that is especially true during the holiday season.

Mentally, most of us are in vacation mode. We have a litany of pre-programmed excuses—my family is in town, it is cold outside, I have the company holiday party, some fitness facilities have New Year’s deals, and on and on.

Excuses. There are many of them. But they shouldn’t be any more difficult to address over the holidays than they are any other day you don’t feel like exercising.

Here are some different ways of hurdling the obstacles you might have in your way when exercising over the festive period.


Traveling is probably the most common excuse for not staying active during the holidays, and it is really no excuse at all. It’s easy to tell yourself that working out away from home is too much hassle, but it really isn’t. In fact, we have an article about how to train while you are on the road.

Location is just a place. You can exercise in your hotel room or your bedroom. It can be a couple of minutes or a full hour. It all counts, regardless of where you are when you decide to exercise.

No Exercise Equipment

Your body is all the exercise equipment you need. Doing sets of bodyweight exercises will take care of your cardio and strength needs. Remember that every push-up, pull up, sit up, step up and knee up is one calorie fewer in the holiday feast bank.

No Fitness Classes or Personal Trainers

If you have a smartphone, you have a workout buddy, coach, and class all in one convenient location. There are literally thousands of exercise apps available for android and apple devices (of which we reviewed a few). You can also search streaming video platforms, such as Netflix and YouTube, for quick and convenient workouts. In as little as 7 minutes you can get a full body workout away from home, without classes, trainers or equipment. There’s no excuse.

No Gym

This is often the case when you are traveling. But we’ve compiled a list of tricks for getting in your exercise away from home:

  • If you are staying in a hotel, ask if it has a fitness facility. Many often do.
  • If you have a gym membership to a chain, ask if you can use it at different locations.
  • If you are going to be somewhere for an extended period of time, find out if there is a local gym that you can join.
  • If you are back in your old stomping grounds, go for a walk around some of your old haunts. If you are pressed for time (or don’t wanna be recognized) pick up the pace and jog.

There might be more excuses on deck, so ask yourself: is it the circumstances that are stopping me from exercising or is it me? And be honest when you answer.

Best Time To Exercise In Feasting Festive Season?

There really isn’t a magic formula for the best time to work off the excesses of the holidays. If mornings work for you, do it in the morning. If you feel most energetic to get fit in the afternoon or the evening, then get to it then. There are scientific benefits to why one time might be better than another, but ultimately it comes down to when you can and want to exercise.

Portion Control

You are going to eat. And generally, it is more than you usually do during any other time of the year. So what do you do?

If you are hosting, send everyone home with a plate so you aren’t left with tons of extras to pick through for weeks. Have leftovers pre-packed to hand off like a parting gift.

If you are attending, avoid the plate that you would give out if you were hosting. Sometimes this means sneaking out before the long goodbyes. Stay strong. No means no!

If you can’t (or won’t) pass up on the extra serving of your holiday favorite meal, try these post-eating exercises that might be fun for the family (and are also good for digestion).

No need to overdo it, just get your heart rate up slightly.

  1. Walk around the neighborhood
  2. Have a dance off (the good old fashioned way or use a visual cue from a video game)
  3. Do jumping jacks (yup, those jumping jacks).
  4. Try Yoga

To help with some tips about keeping the holiday period from winning the tale of the tape, we talked to Dr. Jon Dunbar, Doctor of Chiropractic, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and all around fitness badass.

What is the best type of exercise to do to stay fit if the only running you are doing is from one holiday party to another?

“THE ONE YOU ENJOY! If that fitness is strength training, then strength train. If it is cardio or playing a sport, then go for it! The most important thing about exercise, and sticking to exercise, is finding something you like!”

So given that enjoyment is the best way to commit to exercise, what should exercisers be doing to maximize their workout for the holidays?

“Stick with strength training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These forms of exercise increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), and are time efficient.”

Okay, but what if the holidays see them lodging away from their own familiar fitness facilities?

“If it is in a modest hotel with a small gym, make the best use of the limited equipment available. If the gym has a few dumbbells, choose a ‘dumbbell only workout’ with pushes, pulls, squats, lunges, and arm work.

If they have a lot of floor space (but limited equipment), then choose ground-based core exercises, bodyweight exercises like push-ups, or yoga/stretching.

The big thing is just to use what is available to you and get creative. It may not be exactly what you want to do, but something is absolutely better than nothing.”

And now for the toughest holiday exercise situation—they are out of town with no gym on site.

“Bodyweight circuits with push-ups, squats, lunges, and core exercises work really well here. Another fun thing is to check out your local landscape. Are there hills you could climb or run? What about a park with many stairs to climb? Perhaps a playground nearby for pull ups and push ups.”

So, what is the best bodyweight exercise then?

“Push-ups, lunges (forward, backward, side) squats, pull-ups. ALLLLLLLLLL COOOOOORE EXERCISES!! And plyometrics like jumps, skips, and bounds. Sprints. Don’t forget the sprints.

Now, as far as you are concerned, what is the best type of exercise equipment during the holiday season?

“Hands down any free weight such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, med balls, sandbags. When using these pieces of equipment you are often times performing multi-joint movements that require stability and control. Better to work the whole body.”

Do you have any tips on how to stay mentally focused?

“I assume you mean with eating? Or with working out? Or both? Tip number one to stay mentally focused is to pre-plan your workout days and specific goals you want to achieve in those days. It will hold you accountable and make you look forward to the workout.”

So that is for working out. What about tips for eating and food?

“Most importantly, you shouldn’t be TOO hard on yourself. Be sure to only ‘cheat’ on the foods you ABSOLUTELY LOVE and can only get around the holidays. Maybe that is a piece of fudge, a special candy, or special dessert a family member makes once a year. Allow yourself to have these things, but then stay away from the everyday piles of cookies, cakes, etc…”

What about portion control? Do you have any tips for portion control?

“At holiday dinners, make your first plate ONLY protein and a high fiber choice like available vegetables and squashes. If after that you are still hungry, then go for some starch like stuffing, mashed potatoes, maybe a dinner roll. By this time you will already be full and your serving of the starch should and will be much smaller.”

So, there you have it. Don’t let the festive season keep you off your game (or favorite piece of exercise equipment if you can help it). Some mental fortitude, a smidge of self-control and a commitment to a little sweat will help to keep the holiday bod under control.

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