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.
A warm up not only reduces your risk for injury. According to the American Council on Exercise, it also helps you burn calories more efficiently due to the increase in your core body temperature. As you gradually ease into movement, your muscles begin to heat up, which increases their elasticity. The blood vessels also dilate, which allows blood to move more freely, delivering oxygen to the heart and the muscles. Increased oxygen flow to the muscles facilitates a better supply of energy for exercise. Instead of experiencing a rapid increase in movement and heart rate, like what occurs when you go from no movement to intense exercise, a warm up allows the body to prepare for the activity, improving exercise performance.
What to Do to Warm Up
As long as it gradually increases your heart rate and gets the muscles moving, any activity can be used as a warm up. For strength training, it can be as simple as pedaling on a stationary bike with little resistance. If you are working out at home, try marching in place. Using the same activity you will do for your workout, but at a lower intensity, can also serve as a warm up. For example, if you are going to run, start the course with a walk or a light jog. If you plan to swim, you can tread water or use a kickboard to take a few slow laps around the pool. Once your body is warm, increase the intensity or resistance and move on to your full workout.
How Long to Warm Up
The length of your warm up can be influenced by the time of day, temperature, and type of exercise. As a general rule, your warm up should last from 5 to 10 minutes. When you are preparing for a high intensity workout, plan to do at least a 10-minute warm up. Your body will benefit from the extra time to work up to a challenging pace. If you exercise first thing in the morning, you may also need a longer warm up to help increase blood flow. This is also true when exercising in cold weather. It may take your muscles longer to warm up and improve elasticity to allow for easy movement. Once your heart rate has increased, you are breathing more heavily, and your muscles feel warm and flexible, move on to your workout.
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.