It’s that time of year again and many of us are decking the halls, shopping for gifts for loved ones, and planning festive dinners. But the holiday season can also disrupt our diet and exercise, sleep, and hydration routines.
Balancing your Christmas and new year plans with your health needs can be tricky, and may raise the question: is it possible to still keep our mental and physical health in good shape over the holiday period? The simple answer is yes, but there are things to look out for.
Here’s a list of seven tips to hopefully help you be happier and healthier over the next couple of weeks.
1. Plan ahead
The key to preparing for any likely disruptions to your health and fitness routine is to plan ahead – especially when doing your Christmas food shop. This can help you to feel more in control of your health over the holiday season, while still enjoying yourself.
For example, if you make a list of what and how much you need before you head out to the shops, then you’re less likely to be drawn in by Christmas offers and end up making spontaneous purchases of things you don’t really want or need. This is a helpful way to keep costs down too.
It can also be useful to make sure that, as well as buying treats like mince pies and chocolates, you also stock up on things like fruit and veg to provide balance.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t do well with sitting around indoors all Christmas (perhaps due to boredom or cabin fever!), you could also work out how you might incorporate some activity and fresh air into your day – whether it’s getting the whole family out the door to go for a chilly, woodland walk or setting yourself up for the day by going for a refreshing morning run.
It’s also not uncommon to find that even the smaller elements of your routine, like hydration and getting enough sleep are heavily disrupted over the Christmas break, which can leave us feeling less like ourselves. So your plan could also include things like making sure you drink enough water and getting to bed before 3am!
2. Remember that ‘treats’ are part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle
While it’s okay to want to stick to any health and fitness goals over Christmas, worrying about doing so too much may dim your festive spirit and stop you from enjoying the time as much as you should. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you allow yourself plenty of time for fun too.
When it comes to your diet, it’s important to see treats as a normal part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Having a couple of glasses of wine, or a slice of cake doesn’t mean that you have to ‘start again’ the next day and punish yourself for what you ate and drank the night before.
This is where having a positive mental relationship with your diet and fitness goals is particularly important. Try to remember that while your physical health is a top priority, your mental health is just as important – and that means being kind to yourself.
There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the holiday and indulge a little. Give yourself permission to relax. Just keep everything in moderation.
3. Practise mindful eating
Christmas is probably the most challenging time of year when it comes to healthy eating. Often because there’s lots of food around and many of us have more time on our hands. However, there are some ways to enjoy any delicious food that’s on offer, without leaving yourself feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. .
For example, eating mindfully can help. This means taking your time when eating, thinking about and savouring each mouthful, and chewing your food fully.
Portion size is another thing to consider because if we eat little and often, we’ll typically feel less sluggish and be able to digest our food better.
At Christmas, this could be as simple as having two or three roast potatoes, rather than four or five, reducing your portion of Christmas pudding by a third, or allowing yourself to have a couple of chocolates here and there, rather than eating through the box in one sitting.
4. Stay hydrated
Many of us will be letting our hair down and enjoying drinks with friends and family over the festive period – and while this is a normal part of Christmas for lots of us, it can also leave us feeling a bit worse for wear.
When we’re sipping wine, beer, or prosecco throughout the day, it can be easy to forget to drink water or other hydrating drinks in between.
Christmas also takes many of us away from our regular daily routines – for example. our usual pattern of hydration. This is another reason why many of us may forget to drink water (not to mention that this is more of a challenge anyway when it’s cold!).
If this sounds familiar, then there are small things you can do to help, such as remembering to start your day with a glass of water or having a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.
If you’re not keen on the taste of water, you could also explore other hydrating options, such as milk, peppermint tea (which is also great for digestion!), and fruit or vegetable juice. There are plenty more ideas in our article; 9 healthy and hydrating alternatives to water.
Staying hydrated can help us to feel more energised, keep our immune systems boosted, and improve the quality of our sleep – among many other things.
When choosing alcoholic beverages, it’s also worth having an idea about which ones are higher or lower in calories. For example, a 125ml glass of prosecco contains 86 calories, and a 210ml serving of gin and slimline tonic contains 155 calories; whereas, a pint of 5% beer contains 239 calories, and a long island tea has over 700 calories.
Choosing healthier alternative drinks when possible can make a significant difference to how you feel over the holiday season.
5. Consider ways you could stay active
If you keep a regular exercise routine throughout the year, then you might find that this naturally becomes disrupted during the holidays; for example, because the gym is closed or you’re spending time with loved ones. For some people, this will be a welcome break, though it’s also understandable if you start to miss your routine, especially if it gives you a mental boost, as well as a physical one.
In, this case, you could consider doing some home workouts – weights or HIIT training are popular options. Or, if you don’t want to do anything too intense but feel the need to move in some way, you could create a gentler exercise routine which makes use of practices like stretching or yoga.
If you’re already used to home workouts, you may already have all the equipment you need. This could include weights, resistance bands, and a yoga mat. Though if you don’t have this equipment to hand, there are plenty of ways you can improvise; for example, by using water bottles as weights, or a large beach towel as a yoga mat.
For those who are short on time over the Christmas break, it can be helpful to choose workouts that target the whole body; rather than focusing on individual muscle groups. If you have weights and resistance bands, it’s a good idea to include these in your workout choices too – as building and maintaining your strength is always a positive thing, no matter what time of year it is.
And, as briefly mentioned, the holiday is a great time to get out and go walking – it’s generally quieter, and frosty (or even snowy!) conditions can create some beautiful scenery. Walking is also something that’s just as fulfilling to do alone, as it is with family and friends.
6. Dance like no one’s watching
The holiday season is supposed to be about fun, so why not get your family and friends in the mood with your favourite party playlist?
Dancing is a great way to keep in shape and not only would it boost the party spirit, but it’s a great aerobic exercise that’ll raise your heartbeat and get those endorphins flowing.
Vigorous dancing for an hour is a full body workout. With the average Christmas dinner having close to a whopping 1000 calories (excluding drinks and pudding), dancing for just half an hour could burn 200.
If you’re alone, then why not dance by yourself? Some of the best dancing happens when nobody’s watching.
Or, if you’d rather take a more structured approach to dance, you’ll find plenty of ideas in our article; 11 online dance classes for beginners.
7. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
It’s common for our sleep patterns to become disrupted over Christmas and New Year – especially if we’re not at work or we’re staying away from home.
So, it can help to try to maintain as much of a routine as possible. Not only will this boost our mental and physical health, but it’ll also make us less likely to snack on sugary foods for extra energy.
If you can, try to give yourself a cut-off point, even on nights you know you’ll be staying up later than usual. It can also be useful to set an alarm for a reasonable time the next morning. This doesn’t have to be really early, but it can help you avoid sleeping in until lunchtime, and pushing back your bedtime the following evening as a result.
The holiday season can also be a sad time for some of us, and this may cause issues with sleep too. In this case, offloading your thoughts into a journal before bed can help to ease strong emotions – or you might find it comforting to listen to an audiobook or podcast as you drift off.
For more tips and advice on getting a good night’s sleep, you might want to visit the sleep and fatigue section of our website.
We hope you’ve found these seven tips for staying in shape over the holiday season useful.
Generally speaking, the holiday season is a time for enjoying ourselves and having a well earned rest after a long year, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look after our health during this time too.
When it comes to feeling happy and healthier at any time of year, the key to success usually lies in moderation and balance. Making an effort to stay active in between periods of relaxation, getting enough sleep, and drinking more water can make a big difference to how you feel.
Do you have any additional tips on staying in shape over the holidays that you’d like to share? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.