How to stay active through the holiday season

Being physically active on a consistent basis can be challenging. Countless obstacles can arise that disrupt good intentions and best laid plans, from illness and injury to family obligations and dropping temperatures. Motivation can also be unpredictable, meaning that weeks of consistency can fall by the wayside when life gets in the way and sends your focus elsewhere.

The challenge to stay active is heightened for many of us during the holiday season, as we travel to see family or host visitors in our homes. Additionally, schedules are often disrupted by holiday gatherings, time off from work and children home from school. If you’ve been stopping by the gym every day after work or going for walks after dropping your kids off at school, how will you keep up with that physical-activity regimen when your daily routine changes?

[READ: Mental Benefits of Exercise.]

How to Stay Active During the Holidays

Consider these six tips for making physical activity a regular part of your lifestyle over the long term, through the holidays and beyond.

Find something you enjoy.

This is the first rule of any sustainable exercise routine. If your workout feels like just another chore on your to-do list, it’s going to be difficult to stick with over the long haul. Instead, be creative in finding types of physical activity you enjoy.

If 45 minutes on the elliptical at the gym feels like a chore (not to mention the drive to and from the facility), take your workout outdoors and try hiking or walking in your neighborhood. Dance. Garden. Ride bikes with your kids. Take a yoga class online. Join a recreational sports league. All of these count as physical activity, and even small amounts add up. Find what you enjoy and find ways to do it more often.

[SEE: Creative Outdoor Exercise Ideas.]

Make it convenient.

It may be easier and more convenient to walk for 30 minutes in your neighborhood or perform a simple dumbbell workout at home than to drive to the gym and back in order to exercise. Of course, if you have time to get to the gym and do your full workout or meet with your personal trainer, that’s great.

Try to make exercise as convenient as possible during those periods when you’re extra busy. The best way to stick with an exercise regimen is to make sure it suits your lifestyle and priorities, while being flexible enough to modify the routine if your priorities shift temporarily.

Make it a priority.

Most of us are managing countless responsibilities every day, so it’s vital to treat physical activity as an important part of your day. Put it on your schedule, just as you would a business meeting or doctor’s appointment. And, let others know when you’ll be busy exercising and how they can help you find the time to do so. Having the support of those people in your everyday life — from family members to coworkers — is an essential element of success.

Find ways to move throughout the day.

Exercise doesn’t have to be structured or take place in a gym to be worthwhile. If your schedule is disrupted in a way that makes getting your normal workout in impossible, it’s important to find ways to move throughout your day.

Taking three 10-minute walks during the day — one in the morning, another during your lunch hour and another after dinner along with your family or visiting relatives — produces similar benefits to spending 30 minutes on the treadmill at the gym. In other words, taking short movement breaks throughout your day adds up to a more active lifestyle and can help you meet your goals.

[Read: Best Fitness Apps and Home Workouts.]

Be realistic.

Most of us are overly optimistic when first mapping out a workout plan. Our motivation is at its peak and we want to exercise as much as we possibly can. But remember, exercise doesn’t have to be at maximal intensity in order to be effective and reap benefits.

And, you don’t have to exercise before, during and after work every day in order to hit your goals. Instead, be realistic about how much time and energy you have, where your priorities lie and what your physical abilities are before committing to a program.

Setting unreasonable expectations that don’t match the reality of your situation is a recipe for failure, or worse yet, injury. Instead, take an honest look at your current lifestyle and determine ways to incorporate more movement into your daily life. Then, build from there.

Be flexible.

Whatever program you set up for yourself isn’t going to always perfectly match your schedule. There will undoubtedly be times when you’ll need to be flexible with your routine and change things up a bit to stay on track, but the important thing is that you continue to find ways to move and be as active as you can.

Lifelong Exercise Habits

True lifestyle change involves taking a long-term view of your health and wellness. No one is perfect day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month. Whether it’s a change in jobs, a cross-country move or simply a two-week visit from your mother-in-law over the holidays, things will disrupt your routine and force you to find new ways to be active.

The good news is, those disruptions can serve as opportunities to add variety to your workouts and move in new ways. So, be forgiving towards yourself if the holiday season means you are exercising a bit less often or less intensely. Just find ways to keep moving and then get back on track as soon as you can.

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