Secrets to Staying Fit During the Holidays

Holidays can undo healthy habits.

From now until New Year’s Day, your schedule will likely be filled with family obligations, traveling and festive outings with all sorts of tempting treats. While some holiday events and gatherings will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, there will still be plenty of opportunities to overindulge. It’s no surprise that many of us see our waistlines expand during the holiday season, as even the most disciplined people can find it difficult to stick to their health and fitness routines.

But this year can be different.

To help keep us on track, I’ve enlisted the aid of several colleagues — leading experts in health, sports medicine, behavioral psychology, fitness and nutrition — for some much-needed advice. Here are their 10 secrets to staying fit during the season of overindulgence:

1. Keep moving.

“In addition to staying active, try to avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time, such as when watching football games or eating. Remember: Too much sitting is hazardous to your health. Research shows that getting up for just five minutes every 30 to 60 minutes and performing light activity (say, pacing around the house or performing simple squat exercises) reduces the risk of diabetes and other heart disease risk factors.”

— Lance Dalleck, professor of exercise and sport science at Western Colorado University in Gunnison.

2. Have a plan. And hydrate.

“The holidays can be a real land mine in terms of disrupting your best exercise and weight-control intentions. Start each day with a game plan, just like a great coach going into a big game.”

“First, track your food intake and activity level. Doing so makes you aware of the amount of calories in certain foods. Even if you decide to eat higher-calorie options, you will probably eat smaller portions and make other adjustments to stay within your daily caloric goals.”

“Also, stay hydrated. Your brain can sometimes confuse thirst with hunger. A large glass of water before a meal (and especially before considering seconds) can help lessen the amount of food you consume. Drink six to eight glasses of water per day, and be sure to have two big glasses of water before the big, calorie-rich meals.”

— Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Haverton, Pennsylvania, specializing in sports medicine and chief medical adviser for the American Council on Exercise

3. Make lists, exercise early and sleep.

“The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, but I recognize that it has the potential to be hard on my health. To alleviate the potential negative impacts of the season, I recommend making sure workouts are in the morning so you don’t get distracted later in the day by parties, events or other holiday hoopla. I also recommend getting plenty of rest and maintaining lists to stay organized and stress-free.”

— Chris Freytag, American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor living in Wayzata, Minnesota

4. Expect the unexpected.

“We are glass half-full people, so we hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst. We always have an emergency bag of healthy food that requires no refrigeration and can be readily eaten as is — a health umbrella of sorts. While the rain may indeed fall on the just and the unjust, it does not fall on the prepared.”

— Lee and Beth Jordan, American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainers and health coaches based in Jacksonville, Florida

5. Be creative and get rid of ‘all or nothing’ mindsets.

“The holidays are hectic, but do your best to avoid the ‘all or nothing’ mentality when it comes to healthful eating and physical activity. In reality, there is more than just one way to live healthfully and be active.”

“During the holidays, get a bit creative with exercise and opt for fun ways that make physical activity a family affair. From exploring new group fitness classes to building physical activity into holiday traditions — like taking a family walk around the neighborhood before opening Christmas presents — think outside the box when it comes to ways to have quality time with family and friends while also prioritizing your health.”

— Jessica Matthews, associate professor and director of the Master of Kinesiology in Integrative Wellness program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, and American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor

6. Plan — and remember there’s always time and opportunity for a workout.

“Plan your workouts for the week and note them in your schedule to assure they are a part of your day. Also, remember that some exercise is better than none. Rather than skipping the gym altogether, make time for a quick workout.”

“If my schedule keeps me from the gym, I find at least 15 minutes to do body-weight exercises or kettlebell swings in the evening. It may not be my normal weightlifting workout, but I do sweat and feel a lot better when I’m done.”

— Pete McCall, American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer in San Diego, California, and host of the All About Fitness podcast

7. Indulge for a night, not a season.

“It’s easy to overindulge when the season of parties and leftovers — so many leftovers is upon us. Avoid allowing ‘treats’ to become staples by not letting them linger in the house after the celebration has ended. When the party is over, it is time to dump the junk!”

— Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor in the department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

8. Remember it’s a single day.

“Enjoy the holiday. If you worry about eating too much on this single day, the reality is that one day won’t make or break your health plan. Unfortunately, most people start a pattern of daily ‘treats’ in some form or another or skip exercise due to visiting relatives. That routine then somehow continues from Thanksgiving through the end of the year.”

Enjoy the holiday, but don’t let it go from a day of indulgence to a month of indulgence that leads to unwanted habits that continue beyond the holiday season.”

— Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer based in Annapolis, Maryland.

9. Rev up your walking.

“Try doing some periodic bursts of ‘fast walking’ for about 30 seconds when you go to the indoor/outdoor malls and when you’re walking around your neighborhood enjoying the holiday decorations.”

“This is a form of interval training, which has been shown to be wonderful for your heart and helps burn extra calories, which is always beneficial during the holidays.”

— Len Kravitz, professor and coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque

10. Take a moment for yourself.

“Stress is pervasive, and it increases exponentially during the holiday season. Stress leads to poor sleep, more sedentary behavior and — you guessed it — a craving for those comfort foods.”

“Take a ‘me moment’ each day. If we are intentional about our self-care routine and remind ourselves to breathe in and think ‘let’ and breathe out and think ‘go,’ we have a better chance to mitigate the effects of daily stress. In doing so, motivation isn’t as likely to wane, and we feel better and move more.”

— Erin Nitschke, professor of exercise science at Laramie County Community College in Sheridan, Wyoming, and American Council on Exercise–certified health coach

10 expert-approved secrets to staying fit during the holidays:

— Keep moving.

— Have a plan. And hydrate.

— Make lists, exercise early and sleep.

— Expect the unexpected.

— Be creative and get rid of “all or nothing” mindsets.

— Plan — and remember there’s always time and opportunity for a workout.

— Indulge for a night, not a season.

— Remember it’s a single day.

— Rev up your walking.

— Take a moment for yourself.

More from U.S. News

12 Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

8 Strategies for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

24 Gift Ideas for Nursing Home Residents

Secrets to Staying Fit During the Holidays originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up