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 be a time of great temptation when it comes to food and drink – and you may find that your diet and exercise routines get disrupted.

Balancing your Christmas and new year plans with your health and fitness needs can be tricky, and may raise the question: is it possible to still keep in shape over the holiday period? The simple answer is yes, but there are things to look out for.

Here’s a list of eight tips to help you through it.

1. Plan ahead

The key to preparing for any likely disruptions to your health and fitness routine is to make a plan and stick to it. This can help you to feel more in control of your health over the holiday season, and as though nothing is going to take you by surprise.

The goal is to find a workable balance where you can still keep on top of your health and fitness plans without having to suffer for it. This often means considering what you’re going to eat and drink over the next few weeks and how you’re (realistically) going to stay active – without denying yourself a few treats.

The first thing to consider is how long your Christmas holiday period will be –  and what you’re likely to be doing on those days. For example, if you know you’re having a big meal in the evening, then you could plan to eat healthier, lighter foods throughout the day. Or if you want to completely let go and not watch what you eat on Christmas Day, then you could make sure to eat well and exercise on the days either side.

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 a bit worse for wear. So your plan could also include things like making sure you drink enough water and getting to bed before 3am!

2. Allow yourself some time out without feeling guilty; you’ve earned it

It’s been a tough year and this is the biggest annual holiday, so why not enjoy it? You might be with friends and family you haven’t seen for a while and want to make the most of time spent with them.

Worrying too much about your health and fitness plans over the holidays may dim your festive spirit. So, your plan should always make allowances for fun.

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. Remember that when it comes to food, balance is key

Christmas is probably the most challenging time of year when it comes to healthy eating. But, as we’ve mentioned above, the key is balance – which means making sure you eat enough protein and vegetables to avoid letting sugary and fatty foods take over.

It’s still possible to indulge and avoid a high-calorie intake by keeping an eye on your portion size. A smaller plate of food can make all the difference, especially when you know there may be more meals and snacks on offer throughout the day. This way, you’ll be making room to have a little taste of everything without overindulging.

There’s no need to refuse certain foods if you feel you really want some. But by reducing your portion of Christmas pudding by a third, having only one mince pie, or eating just two or three roast potatoes rather than five or six, your body will be better able to handle it (as long as you’ve made room for it).

Eating smaller, more frequent meals will also help you to avoid that bloated ‘I’m stuffed’ feeling. And this is particularly true if you practise mindful eating, and chew your food well.

4. Keep an eye on your alcohol and water intake

Though many of us will be letting our hair down and enjoying drinks with friends and family over the festive period, it’s still worth being aware of how many units of alcohol you’re drinking, to avoid overdoing it. The NHS recommends that men and women don’t drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

Again, this will be one of the bigger challenges over the holidays – and it’s always tempting to have another glass, especially when others are doing the rounds with the bottle at hand. It can be easy to get carried away in the moment, or keep drinking because you don’t want to be a party pooper.

If you find it difficult to limit your alcohol intake over Christmas and New Year, then it can help to have a few tactics in place to help you out. For example, you can avoid others topping up your half empty glass by politely refusing and putting your hand over it, or saying that you’re okay for now and will have some more a little later.

Once you lose count of how many glasses you’ve had, it can become harder to stop, since you may pass that threshold of awareness. So, one of the most effective ways to avoid getting to this stage is to have a glass of water in between each unit of alcohol and sip it slowly. This will not only help to keep your alcohol intake at bay, but it will help you remain well hydrated.

When choosing your 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. Keep moving and avoid sitting for extended periods

Many of us find ourselves sitting for longer periods of time over Christmas and New Year. And while allowing yourself rest after a busy year is a good thing, there are still some things we can do to keep ourselves in decent shape.

You may decide that you want to keep up your normal exercise, such as running or home workout classes over the Christmas break, even if you simply have to cut down your sessions due to other commitments. If you’re travelling somewhere to be with family, then it might be a case of remembering to take your workout gear with you and finding a quiet hour or half an hour where you can get in the zone.

However, if you know that you won’t be able to get much of your normal exercise over the holidays, then it can help to explore other ways to stay active. This will mean different things for different people. But you could try breaking up your day by going for brisk walks, doing chores like vacuuming and mopping the floors, or playing with any children who may be around.

Avoiding long periods of sitting where you’re slouched over can also help – as poor posture can quickly become a bad habit that takes time to reverse. There are also plenty of quick and easy exercises that you can do to improve and maintain good posture which you can read about in our article here.

Stretching is another great way to keep moving and stop your joints and muscles from stiffening up if you’re sitting around more than usual.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid sitting on the sofa for more than an hour at a time – even if that means pausing something you’re watching to get up and stretch your legs for a couple of minutes.

6. Swap the gym for home workouts if needed

Gym opening hours can be significantly reduced over the festive period, and will likely be closed on bank holidays. So, if you’re a regular gym goer, it can be helpful to have a backup plan for days when it’s not possible to do your usual workout.

It can be tempting to throw in the towel and skip your workout altogether if you can’t get to the gym. But if you still want to workout or feel you really should, then there are plenty of ways you can get an effective workout at home.

If you’re already used to home workouts, then you may already have all the equipment you need. This could include weights, resistance bands, and a yoga mat. Though if you don’t, 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.

If you’re short on time over the Christmas break, then 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, then it’s a good idea to include these in your workout choices – as building and maintaining your strength thresholds is always a good thing, no matter what time of year it is.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is another great way to keep in shape. A 30-minute HIIT session works wonders for your cardiovascular health and can help you build muscle too. If high intensity sounds a bit much, then there are usually plenty of beginner or lower impact options available for this style of training as well.

Working out at home can sometimes be a challenge; perhaps because there are more distractions or you simply don’t feel motivated. So, if you notice your focus waning, then try changing your workouts up a bit. If one day, you don’t feel much like jumping around, then you could try doing something easier on your joints like yoga or pilates instead.

It’s also important to find the time of day that works best for you. If you’re with other people over the holidays, try tempting them to join you. Or another option could be to have an early morning workout in the privacy of your own room and avoid others trying to convince you otherwise.

7. 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 will 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 dancing, then you’ll find plenty of ideas in our article 11 online dance classes for beginners.

8. 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 will make us less likely to snack on sugary foods for extra energy.

Covid lockdowns and remote working has already affected many people’s sleep patterns with some still struggling with prolonged insomnia – and continuous late nights over the holidays can exacerbate this, making it more difficult to return to a somewhat normal routine in the new year.

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 site.

Final thoughts...

We hope you’ve found these eight 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, having just two roast potatoes instead of four, 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? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.


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