It’s getting close to the holidays, and if you’re like me, you’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends, time off work and enjoying good food. With all the celebrations, visiting, shopping (ugh!), baking, etc. the holidays can also mean a change in our routine. And why not? It’s the holidays after all.

But that doesn’t mean you also have to take an activity holiday as well. Yes, we may be limited by the gym we go to being closed or our favourite Zumba program stopping for the two weeks, but there are other ways to stay active. I’m not suggesting that we can’t ease back on our activity, and definitely other life events can take priority. However, we also don’t want to have spent a lot of time and effort being active and in shape throughout the year to stop and lose some of it over a two week span. My goal over the holidays is to maintain my activity but it may be doing something different like skipping, a lot more walking, or tobogganing with the kids.

In the blog I’ve already discussed the long-term benefits of regular physical activity and there are a lot of short-term benefits of keeping active during the holidays too.

You’ve probably heard of scary tales of weight gain over the holidays. I remember being told it could be as much as 10 pounds for most people! Fortunately, the reality isn’t as scary. In fact many studies have found weight increases to be quite modest; in the range of 1 to 3 pounds (that’s the average, so some people do gain more). That’s not a lot, but if it did happen each year, then it does add up. Maintaining your physical activity may help keep that to a minimum so you’re not one of those people frantically trying to lose weight in January.

With all that goes on during the holidays, it can also be quite stressful with numerous demands and to-do lists, and this added stress can cause health problems. Indeed, the number of heart attacks increase around Christmas and New Year’s Day. At first it was believed to be due the holidays occurring during winter, but a more recent study in New Zealand found an increased in heart-related deaths when Christmas happens in the summer. Most likely, it’s a combination of increased stress, less activity, along with more food and alcohol. In addition, people often delay going to their doctor or the hospital during the holidays because they don’t want to interrupt the festivities. It’s also not a bad thing to say ‘no’ to things and enjoy time during the holidays for yourself.

Physical activity is an excellent way to relieve stress that may occur from the holiday season. People who are active have less stress. Being active releases endorphins that make us feel better, it helps us sleep (and we all are in better moods when rested) and it refreshes our mind. It’s not always easy getting out to exercise or be active but the pay-offs at the end are definitely worth it.

So how can we fit in being active? Besides what I talked about earlier, during the holidays there are more opportunities to be active than you might think.

While I’m not a huge fan of Christmas shopping, I sure do get a lot of walking doing it. Try shopping locally and minimize time in the car. If you do have to drive to a mall, park further away; you’ll stay out of the traffic of cars circling for the best spot and get some more steps in (most likely it will be quicker). Walk up escalators instead of standing. Sometimes I’ll do laps around the mall (I may not be the most efficient shopper). If you shop online- great, the time you saved you can get a walk in.

There are also lots of other activities going on to enjoy the festive time while being active. Plenty of public gardens get done up in lights. There are gingerbread house contests to visit, Christmas tree displays, and taking a stroll through your neighbourhood to check out the local lights and displays. Get out and try some winter sports with family and friends like snowshoeing, skating or skiing. You can even join a group of carolers (or start your own) bringing holiday cheer to your neighbours. Singing is another great activity to relieve stress.

Maintaining your physical activity over the holidays may not be at the top of your list but it should be. You’ll feel better during the holidays and after.

This is Part 14 in a series of blog posts entitled Being Active While Living an Active Life.