While it’s okay to reduce your exercise time during the busy holiday season, completely cutting out your workouts is a big mistake. Not only will you lose the fitness gains you've worked so hard for, exercise helps reduce holiday-related tension and stress.
Add 20 minutes to your day
An effective circuit or high intensity interval workout takes 20 minutes or less. Waking up a few minutes early or delegating some things on your to-do list can open up a window of time that allows you to sneak in a workout.
Never pass up an opportunity to move
Now is the time to recommit to those little things that add activity to your day. Always take the stairs, walk to deliver messages, complete errands on foot, and work in a set of squats while dinner is in the oven. These simple activities may not seem like much, but the short bursts of movement help refresh your energy levels and boost calories burned.
Create outdoor holiday traditions
While extreme weather can hinder outdoor activities, brisk temperatures, even a little snow, shouldn't prevent you from getting outside. Sign up as a family to walk or jog a local Turkey Trot, a Jingle Bell Walk, or a New Years Eve 5K. Toss the football outside after dinner, have a snowman building competition, or bundle up and go for a walk to view holiday decorations. Planning these activities allows you to get in a workout without taking time away from friends and family.
Trade mindless activities
Even on the busiest days, it’s easy to lose minutes to mindless activities like surfing the Internet, updating your social media status, or watching television. While mental breaks are necessary, these minutes can add up and take away from time you could spend exercising. A quick circuit of lunges, push-ups, and crunches will be better for your physical health than 10 unproductive minutes spent on the computer or watching television.
The mental fitness of your brain is as important as the physical fitness of your body. Research shows that regular physical and mental exercise improves brain health, slowing cognitive decline and reducing stress that can lead to chronic disease. Here are a few ways to exercise your brain and ensure you are fit from head to toe.
Research shows that exercise promotes the growth and prolonged survival of new neurons in the area of the brain responsible for long term memory (the hippocampus). Strength training may be especially helpful for brain health. A study from the University of British Columbia found that those who took part in strength training with two 60-minute sessions, two times per week for six months, had better memory than those who walked for exercise or engaged in balance and flexibility exercises. There was a 17 percent increase in the area of the brain responsible for planning and organizing and a 92 percent increase in associative memory, which allows you to put a face to a name when you meet a person.
Mental Games and New Skills
Everything from challenging your brain with puzzles and trivia to learning a new skill, leads to a healthier mind. Research shows that when you develop new skills, such as learning a language, it may slow cognitive decline, which is associated with memory loss and forgetfulness. Challenging yourself with mental games may improve your concentration as well as improve memory, language skills, and your ability to quickly shift your mind from task to task. Simply reading more has also been found to increase concentration, focus, and memory.
Meditation and Relaxation
Research links regular meditation and relaxation exercises to positive, long term changes in the brain. Meditation has been found to change the connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain. The amygdala is the area of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. Weakening these connections may lead to a more thoughtful response to stress as well as a reduction in overall stress and the inflammation linked to chronic disease. Research shows that regular meditation promotes growth in the area of the brain that is responsible for memory and language. It may also help you process information and make decisions more efficiently.
You can have a positive influence on your family’s health by making your time together more active. Not only do these active games help you burn calories, they teach your children that exercise can and should be fun!
Backyard Obstacle Course
Gather gear together and create an obstacle course in your backyard. Lay hula-hoops on the ground and hop to each one, crawl the length of a jump rope, and hop over a sturdy crate. Get everyone involved and let each person create their own obstacle to add to the course. Time each family member as they complete the entire course. Repeat the course and encourage everyone to beat their own time.
Indoor or Outdoor Circuit
Circuit training isn’t only for adults. Involve the kids in a circuit of activities outdoors or create some space inside on a cold and rainy day. Incorporate stations like hula-hoop, jumping jacks, jump rope, crab-walk, wall-push ups, and chair-sits. Use a stopwatch and set up everyone at their first station. Do each exercise for 50 seconds, and then use 10 seconds to transition to the next exercise.
Toss in the Bucket
Select a starting line where everyone will toss their ball. Set up buckets of different sizes, different distances away from the line. Be sure to make some far away so that everyone has to put effort into his or her throw. Pick balls that vary in size, appropriate for each bucket. Try golf balls, tennis balls, or softballs. Allow each family member to throw the balls in the buckets and keep things active by making everyone retrieve their own ball. Get the heart rate up and encourage a faster pace by timing each person with the winner being the one who makes the most buckets and who also has the fastest time.
Walk and Drop
Find a round object that is large enough to be held between your legs at knee level. This might be a softball, a balloon, or even a potato. Set a starting point and place a bucket or bowl a few yards away. The further the bucket, the harder the game, so adjust according to the ages of your children. Each person must put the object between their knees and walk with it to the bucket where they will then drop the object into it. Time each person. The faster you move, the better the exercise and your chances of winning.
Pass the Pedometer
Pedometers don’t have to be reserved for adults. Giving one to the whole family creates a way to track activity while also providing an easy math lesson. Before you head out to the park or off on a hike, strap on the pedometer. Everyone can guess how many total steps you’ll have by the end of the day, or let everyone wear the pedometer for a set amount of time and see who gets in the most steps. Once you know the total number, you can divide it by 2,000 to get a rough estimate of how many miles the whole family covered.
If you aren't reaching your strength training goals, it’s time to put down the light dumbbells and pick up a heavier set. When you begin exercising, light weights may produce results, but within a year you will transition from a novice to a more advanced exerciser. Lifting heavier weights pays off by changing your body composition and improving your health and fitness.
Defining heavy weights
According to the American Council on Exercise, heavy weight lifting requires using a weight that can be lifted three to 10 times with correct form. More specifically, lifting heavy weights is based on your one repetition max (1RM). This is the maximum amount of weight you can safely lift for one repetition of an exercise.
Beginners and heavy weights
Research shows that if you are new to exercise, you can improve strength with weights as low as 45-50% of your one repetition max. Studies suggest that beginners should start with weights that range from 50-60% of your one repetition max to ensure that you learn proper form before moving on to exercises with heavier weights.
Progress and plateaus
The American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) position on resistance training is that more weight may be necessary to progress and continue to see results. Greater strength gains have been found when using a load that allows for 3-5 repetitions when compared to lighter weights that allow for higher repetitions. The ACSM recommends that once you can lift 1-2 repetitions beyond your goal during 2 consecutive workouts, it is time to increase the weight by 2-10%. Doing so will help to prevent strength training plateaus.
Tips for incorporating heavier weights
The method for determining a one repetition max differs depending on the exercise and the muscle group. While it is a simple test, seek the assistance of a qualified fitness trainer to help you establish this baseline. Then seek his or her assistance in developing an effective program. Studies show that when self-selecting the intensity for resistance training it is often too low, often only 38-58% of the one repetition max.
To improve muscular strength, the ACSM recommends that beginner to intermediate exercisers select weights that are 60-70% of your one repetition max. Start with 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Advanced exercisers should aim for loads 80-100% of the one repetition max with 2-6 sets of 1-8 repetitions. The heavier you lift, the longer your rest period should be. Beginner and intermediate programs with lighter loads should include a 1-2 minute rest between exercises using the same muscle groups, while programs with heavier loads should increase the rest period to 2-3 minutes.
Athletes use some of the best sports-specific training to improve fitness, speed, and strength. You don’t have to be an athlete to take advantage of the same effective exercises. By incorporating more challenging moves and using them in a way that matches your fitness level, you can gain similar benefits for health and exercise performance.
Cycling Sprint Intervals
Whether you cycle on the open road or hop on a stationary bike at the gym, sprint intervals will improve your cardiovascular fitness and increase calorie burn. Sprint intervals are a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of exercise that research shows improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness and insulin resistance.
How to do it: Set your stationary bike to a comfortable resistance that matches how you would feel cycling on a flat route. Start with 15 to 30 second sprints, cycling as fast as you can. Recover at a moderate pace for 2 minutes. Repeat the intervals throughout your workout. You can gradually increase your sprint time, decrease your recovery time, or increase your resistance to make the session more challenging.
Sports like rowing, swimming, and volleyball require excellent upper body strength and chin ups are a popular training exercise that target the back and biceps. This exercise isn’t easy. If you are new to it, check to see if your gym has an assisted chin up machine. These machines have a platform to kneel on that supports your lower body, making the exercise easier. Stick with it and you will be able to turn out a full set without assistance in no time.
How to do it: Stand facing the chin up bar. Use a step or jump up to grasp the bar with both hands. They should be about shoulder distance apart with palms facing you. As you hang in the starting position, slightly bend your knees, cross your feet at the ankles, and contract your abdominals to help stabilize your lower body. Pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Your elbows should stay in close to your body and point towards the floor as you pull yourself up.
The speed skater exercise simulates skating and it can be incorporated as a cardio interval into any circuit routine. It works the lower body and the faster you move, the more you will increase your heart rate to improve fitness and burn calories.
How to do it: Hop to the right and land on your right foot. Your left knee should be bent with your left foot lifted off the ground. Hop to the left, landing on your left foot with your right foot elevated. As you begin to hop more quickly from side to side, swing your arms in the direction you hop in order to gain momentum and keep your balance. To make the move more challenging, reach down and touch the floor with your left hand as you land on your right foot and repeat from side to side. To make the move less difficult, remove the hop and step from side to side.
High Knees and Butt Kicks
Often used in track and field as a warm up, high knees and butt kicks can be incorporated at any phase of your workout. The leg movement helps to elongate and stretch the quadriceps and hamstring muscles and the faster you move, the better cardiovascular workout you will get. High knees also target the abdominal muscles. The movements can be done at a walking pace, running, or if you are limited for space, you can do them in place.
How to do it: As you walk forward, raise your knee high with each step. Contract the abdominals and lift it as high as you can. For butt kicks, with each step bend at the knee and bring your heel into contact with your bottom, or as close as you can get. The move should be exaggerated, contracting the hamstrings with each butt kick. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, pick up the pace and accelerate into a running motion as you perform high knees and then switch to butt kicks.
Jab and Cross
Boxing provides an effective workout that can be adapted to all fitness levels. Even if you don’t have access to a bag, simply performing the punch and kick moves will help tone the upper and lower body. You can start simple with a jab and cross combo and add more moves from there, like hooks, uppercuts, and front kicks. Incorporating jump rope or bob and weave intervals will help you get your heart rate up for a challenging session that works the whole body.
How to do it: Stand with your right foot in front of your left. Make a fist with each hand and bring your fists up to your chin in a guard position (as if you were protecting your face). Punch straight out in front of you with your right arm and return to guard position (the jab). Now punch with your left arm (the cross). As you punch with the left, pivot your back foot so that your hips move in the same direction as your punch. Return to the guard position and continue to jab, then cross. Try to incorporate a bouncing or jogging movement as you punch to increase your heart rate. Switch your leg position and jab with your left arm and cross with your right.