During the next two weeks, it’s estimated that a record 116 million people in the United States will travel for the holidays.
For some, it’s a festive homecoming. For others, it’s a source of familial tension.
But one nearly universal part of the experience is not enough exercise and too many calories.
“All year round, we have pressure from media and society to ‘look good’ and everybody wants to lose those last five to 10 pounds,” Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “And what typically happens during the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s time frame is that we actually, on average, gain five pounds.”
It can be a challenge to keep up your usual exercise routine when you don’t have access to your local gym or personal exercise equipment.
But with a little bit of ingenuity, it is possible to fit an exercise routine into the busy holiday season.
For those who don’t have access to a cardio machine over the holidays, the solution is straightforward.
Do your cardio routine the old-fashioned way and go outside for a walk or run.
“If you’re traveling somewhere where it’s warm and you can go outside to walk or jog or anything like that, it’s a nice option,” D.R. Ebner, PT, SCS, a physical therapist at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
Even if it’s chilly outside, bundling up and going for a brisk stroll is a good way to walk off that rich Christmas dinner and take in the lights while shedding some calories in the process.
A 20-minute walk can cover about a mile, which can burn off about 100 calories, depending on a person’s sex and weight.
It’s tough to take a weight training routine on the road.
It just isn’t practical to pack bulky, heavy dumbbells into your luggage and there’s no guarantee that your holiday destination will have alternatives.
Resistance bands may not be able to provide the same heavy lifting workout as dumbbells, but they do offer something similar in a lightweight form that can fit into the palm of your hand.
“The easiest thing that anyone can do, as most research has shown, is resistance training, which helps increase metabolic rate,” said Zarabi. “It doesn’t mean you need to go to a gym and use a machine or lift dumbbells. Resistance bands, which are easily portable, are something you can throw in your luggage. They come in different colors for different intensity levels.”
Anyone who has a daily fitness routine knows that traveling can throw things into chaos.
Rather than struggling to replicate your current program, or haphazardly fit workouts into your day, Ebner says it’s helpful to establish a new routine for the days you’re away from home.
This might entail doing exercises you don’t usually do or adapting to your surroundings.
“You may not have a ton of space,” he said. “But you can do workouts like pushups, jumping jacks, and situps.”
“You can do, for instance, 10 pushups, and then some bodyweight squats and some lunges,” Ebner noted. “You can repeat that two or three times and commit 10 or 15 minutes to it. Work hard, but keep it sustainable.”
To add to his point of adapting to different surroundings, Ebner suggests going online to look for inspiration.
“On YouTube, there are all kinds of workout videos — anything from yoga to calisthenics,” he said.
“If you’re trying to fit an exercise in and you’re not sure what to do, you can find guided routines where it’s all spelled out for you and you can follow along,” he added. “You don’t have to overthink it.”
Even if there’s enough space and equipment to work out, sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day when you factor in the social commitments of the holiday season.
Zarabi says it’s good to approach the season with a goal not of losing weight, but maintaining your current weight.
This strategy even allows for some indulgences, provided they’re reasonable.
“I always like to enforce the 80/20 rule: be good 80 percent of the time and enjoy the desserts and holiday treats 20 percent of the time,” she explained. “Indulging on Christmas Day or at holiday parties is not enough to derail you from your lifestyle. It’s the accumulation of what you do over the long term that really impacts your weight loss efforts.”
Following the indulgent, or over-indulgent festive season, many of us make New Year’s resolutions in an effort to improve things moving forward.
Instead of setting lofty goals for the new year, Zarabi suggests a more measured approach.
“If your resolution is better health, don’t make it about the number on the scale,” she said. “A lot of us judge ourselves by a size or weight, disregarding the fact that we can fluctuate 5 to 7 pounds after a dinner party. It’s best to weigh yourself first thing in the morning at a dry weight and try not to obsess over the marker.”
“I think that people need to be a little more forgiving of themselves and just get back to the basics the next day, instead of waiting for the magic to happen on New Year’s Day,” she added.