November 23·6 min read

Five flexible ways to keep your fitness on track during the holidays

With some fresh ideas and the right mindset, you can still pursue your goals without becoming a Grinch.

Ready or not, the holiday season and all its festive trappings are here. Between the family gatherings, office parties, and friendly get-togethers, there’s no better time of year for eating well and making merry. But between a packed social calendar, long to-do lists, stressful travel, and the onset of harsh winter weather, it’s not always the most wonderful time of the year as far as commitment to fitness and nutrition are concerned. 

While there’s no reason to regret time spent with friends and loved ones both near and dear, you might find yourself lamenting the cumulative effect of the candy canes, cocktails, gingerbread, and eggnog that always seemed to be within arm’s reach throughout most of December. Couple that with a busy schedule filled with holiday shopping and year-end deadlines, and you have the recipe for stalled progress and sapped momentum as the new year rolls around. 

So how do you hold onto your gains during the holiday season? Well, you won’t get anywhere by beating yourself up for not following your usual routine to a T while everything else around you is having fun. Instead, here are five handy tips that can help you maintain or even advance your progress towards your fitness goals during the holidays without becoming a total Grinch in the process. 

1. Work out early and efficiently.

Time — and especially time to ourselves — can be a precious commodity during the holidays. And nobody wants to miss out on a cherished family tradition like decorating the tree, lighting the menorah, or watching A Christmas Story because they were down in the basement suffering through a two-hour workout. Instead, try to keep your workouts to under 30 minutes, or whatever length of time feels manageable to you. If you happen to be working with a personal trainer, this kind of request should be no sweat. 

Getting to bed a little earlier can carve out more time for a morning workout before the day’s activities and errands begin. If you’re not a morning person, laying out everything you’ll need to exercise the night before makes it easier to roll out of bed and launch into a workout. Heck, sleep in your workout clothes if that helps! Not only will working out first thing wake you up for the day ahead, you’ll cruise through the rest of the day without the added stress of worrying when you can sneak away for some exercise while everyone else is having fun.

2. Prioritize Protein & Drink Your Water 

From office holiday parties to Christmas cookie exchanges, a lot of social events around this time of year revolve around food and drink. When putting together your plate at these holiday soirees, prioritize getting your protein first, ideally with some veggies on the side, if possible. This not only keeps you from filling up on treats, but you’ll feel better about rewarding yourself with something seasonal and tasty after first making that healthy choice. When you’re dining at home and get to set the menu, continue prioritizing protein and veggies for your meals. That way you’re still getting important nutrients alongside those festive foods, and you’ll create more flexibility to treat yourself when it truly counts. 

Alcohol can also be a big part of these gatherings, as there’s plenty to toast to at this time of year. But if you focus on mixing celebration with hydration, you don’t have to let a night out knock you off your workout schedule. Focus on having a glass of water in between drinks, which will counteract booze’s dehydrating effect and pace your consumption. At the end of the night, drink a large glass of water before bed. Keep the water flowing from there: continue hydrating regularly throughout the holiday season, especially since you’ll be consuming more foods that may not typically find their way into your diet. 

3. Get outside with family & friends for walks

Between the blustery weather and a whirlwind of indoor activity, it can be hard to get off the couch or out of the kitchen around the holidays. But as Isaac Newton said, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. That means that if you find yourself plopping down on the couch after a big meal, don’t be surprised to realize that the hours have slipped away while you’ve stayed in the same place. 

Instead, resist the urge to rest and get moving. After a meal, make it a habit to grab your people, bundle up, and head out for a short walk, ideally a few times a day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, getting some steps in will aid with digestion and circulation, among other physical perks. 

Not only does the after-meal stroll settle your stomach, it soothes the mind, too. Why? Because spending time outside in the daylight increases vitamin D levels, which may play a role in boosting mood and keeping depression at bay. Given that vitamin D is in shorter supply so close to the winter solstice, everyone will be glad — literally — that they took the time to get outside for a bit of light exercise in between the day’s other fun activities. 

And if you’re the type who could benefit from some solo time away from the relatives to decompress and clear your head, going for a solitary stroll offers yet another mental benefit. Just make sure to actually return to your family instead of starting a new life in the woods. 

4. Ditch the mindset that certain foods are “off limits” except for the holidays.

Deep fried Turkey. Christmas cookies. Peppermint Bark. Latkes. Apple pie. Stuffing. Gravy. While we associate certain foods with specific holiday occasions, there’s really no reason they should be confined to any particular corner of the calendar. If you were visiting family in March and asked them to prepare their signature holiday dish, you’d probably be pleasantly surprised to learn how willing they are to accommodate your request (with enough of a heads up, of course). 

The reason I’m mentioning that is to help you break free from your scarcity mindset around these holiday meals. If you assume you can only eat your favorites once a year, you’re more likely to stuff yourself with them like it was your last meal on death row. Instead, eat until you’re full, remembering that you can have that cookie or piece of pie on any of the other 364 days of the year, too. This not only helps you create and maintain a healthier relationship with food around the holidays, but realize that no foods are truly off-limits as you start to think about nutrition in the new year.

5. Manage Your Expectations During These Months. 

When it comes to health and fitness, goals are the engine of positive physical and mental change. Pursuing any worthwhile goal requires both perseverance in the face of challenges, and flexibility in the face of obstacles. 

But living a healthy life also means living a balanced life. And like no other time of year, the holiday season reminds us of what truly matters: the chance to make memories with friends and loved ones by sharing heartfelt gifts, great food, and good times. It may feel like you’re doing the “right thing” by skipping your favorite foods to stick to your diet, or suffering through a long, exhausting workout while everyone else is making merry. But those things shouldn’t interfere with the season’s special moments or strain your relationship with the people you love. 

However, letting go of that hyper-focus on your health to enjoy the holiday season doesn’t mean treating every day in December like a combination all-you-can-eat buffet and Netflix binge. So if you have a string of days at home where you have the time to follow your usual fitness routine and control what’s on the menu, take advantage of it. Once it’s time to celebrate, you’ll feel better having stuck with your healthy habits on those “normal” days leading up to the season’s festivities. That permission to let go isn’t about doing whatever you want all the time, but about not beating yourself up for treating the holidays like a special occasion — because after all, that’s exactly what they are!  

Mix flexibility with festivity to start next year on the right note.

Keeping your habits on track through the holidays doesn’t require a binary choice between endless self-indulgence and unbending devotion to working out and eating “right”. If you follow these guidelines, you can still find time for at least some light exercise while following a diet that includes both healthy eating and holiday cheer.

By enjoying the moment without taking your eyes completely off the bigger prize, you’ll find it easier to return to a more normal routine in the new year without feeling weighed down by guilt or intimidated by the extra effort it’ll take to get back on the wagon. Do your best to strike that balance, but be forgiving if you slip up. Falling down every now and then is part of the process. You only lose if you decide not to get back up. 

When it comes to balancing fitness and festivity, a Future coach can help make this your most wonderful time of the year. They’re focused on truly personal training, accounting for your goals and your schedule to create actionable exercise plans with enough flexibility for even the most hectic holiday schedule. Your Future coach is always close at hand to offer accountability, encouragement, and expert guidance, so you can keep your goals in sight while making the most of the holiday season

Don’t wait until the ball drops to reap the physical and mental benefits of personal training. Give yourself the gift of progress today when you change the way you work out with Future. As an early holiday gift, get a great deal on your first month of fully remote personal training when you sign up here.

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