22 December 2009

Eat, drink and be merry

Holidays are the times that try the fitness routine.

Holidays are the times that try the fitness routine.

With family feasts, office parties and champagne soirees, the temptation to overindulge is everywhere, just as your yoga studio moves to holiday hours, your gym cancels classes and your personal trainer leaves town.

But experts say if you've worked all year at staying fit, it might be time to give yourself a break, sort of.

"Have a reality check. It's the holidays. It's a wonderful time of year, it shouldn't be a stressful time. Give yourself a little slack," said Carol Espel, director of group fitness for the Equinox chain of luxury health clubs.

"Change of routine, celebrating with family, they're all good things. And they should be," she added.

Espel suggests considering a holding pattern.

"Focus on maintaining some level of nutrition and exercise that you've spent this whole year working at," she said. "Say to yourself, 'What can I do so that when January first rolls around, I'm not feeling like I have to start all over again?'"

In other words, do what you can.

"If you normally work out four to five times weekly, try to get in three times, or even two, so you don't lose every ounce of hope," she said. "We know from research that twice a week is the minimum amount required for fitness maintenance."

Holiday kilos

Even with all that holiday food?

Contrary to widespread rumors, a study done by the National Institutes of Health that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that most people gain only a kilo or so over the holidays. The bad news is that they tend never to shed that weight, so it adds up year-on-year all through adulthood.

To allay your guilt, Espel advises to plan your indulgences.

"Enjoy the holiday fare. Just make up your mind beforehand what you really want. If your mom makes great mashed potatoes, decide you're going to have that. Then maybe have one glass of wine, instead of three," she suggested.

Don't let yourself go

"Some people just let loose. That's a mistake. When you're selective, that panic never sets in. You protect yourself. You're in control," she explained. "Weight gain is the last thing you want on January 1st. It's so depressing."

Jessica Matthews, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, says during the holidays she turns fitness into a family affair.

"Gyms change their schedules or they close, so you have that mental struggle: shall I go out to exercise or spend time with family? I try to gather everyone together and something collectively," she said.

Family fitness

"The holiday time inspires me to share that gift of health and fitness with my family. Ice skating, skiing or snowboarding are really great fun activities," Matthews, a personal trainer, said. "It's worked well for me."

"Be a kid for a little bit, go out and have fun," she advises. "You're keeping your fitness on track while enjoying time with your loved ones."

Both Matthew and Espel believe the holidays are an ideal time to go with the flow.

"Go to a steam room. Take a massage," Espel said. "People really get stressed out. Think about staying where you are. Two weeks is not going to kill you." - (Dorene Internicola/Reuters Health)




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