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By Wayne Westcott


Friday, December 18, 2009.


The Christmas holidays are a special time of year for many reasons, but this festive season of families and feasting presents a major problem from a health and fitness perspective.


The shorter days and colder weather make outdoor activities more difficult. The days of mowing the lawn and raking the leaves are gone. Outdoor walking, jogging and cycling are less inviting. Garden games of football or basketball are hard to find, and no one wants to be your golf or tennis partner.


Unfortunately, the summertime appeal of fruit salads, vegetable salads and lots of cold water has also waned, and larger, heartier meals are much more inviting. Add to this the buffet laden tables, parties and food-filled family events characteristic of the holiday season, and we have a recipe for weight gain disaster.

What simple steps can we take to maintain a desirable body weight and fitness level during these festive weeks? Well the good news is that there are several things we can do to avoid weight gain and loss of fitness, but they work better together. Basically, selecting one or two solutions is not nearly as effective as incorporating as many strategies as possible on a daily or weekly basis.


Step One:


Find 15 minutes to exercise everyday. Regardless of the time or place, commit to at least a quarter of an hour of physical activity.


This can take the form of stretching exercises when you get up in the morning or before you go to bed at night. A walk around the block at home or around the car park at work, a trip up and down the office building stairs twice a day, a few dumbbell exercises at home or a circuit of strength machines at the gym after work can all be effective.


A home exercise cycle while watching the morning news, 15 minutes on the stair climbing machine at the fitness centre before work, an uninterrupted walk around the shopping centre car park on pleasant days (and the same walk inside the shopping centre during more typical winter weather), walking the dog and playing with your children whenever possible are also good means of exercise.




Step Two:


In lieu of 15-minute activity sessions, make a serious effort to park further away from the office, shops, banks, restaurants, etc. Lots of shorter walks are actually as beneficial as a single longer walk. Be sure to take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.


When travelling, walk around the airport instead of using the ‘conveyor belt’ - walking is the only exercise you are likely to get between sitting in waiting areas and on planes. Carry some luggage when travelling by air, and park away from the restaurants and services when travelling by car. Use doors that open by hand rather than by automatic sensors, change television channels at the set rather than by the remote control, refuse to use drive-up stations at banks and restaurants, and get out of the car as often as you can whenever you travel. If you take the train, stand as much as possible rather than sitting throughout the trip.

Step Three:


Promise yourself to avoid fast food establishments and to minimise high-calorie snacks or meals. With so much great food available during the festive season, it makes no sense to indulge in junk foods when you can enjoy more nutritious and delicious meals.


Convince yourself that one dessert per meal is plenty even when there are three different sweets to choose from. Most desserts will keep in the fridge so enjoy one the next day, another the day after. Be cautious about too much coffee, cola and other caffeinated beverages, as well as alcohol, all of which can have a dehydrating effect.


Stay away from ‘all you can eat’ buffets, as extra food is hardly necessary during the holiday season. Eat only until you feel full, even if there is plenty of additional food on the table. If you experience hunger pangs later, there should be lots of leftovers to meet your needs.


Always select lower fat/lower calorie alternatives when given choices. For example, many dinner events offer alternatives, such as grilled chicken, baked fish or vegetarian options (Beware, these are not always as healthy as they sound.)


Fill up on fibre-rich salads, vegetables and fruit salad.

Colourful and aromatic as they may be, say no to sauces, gravies and creamed dishes that can really weigh you down with extra fat and calories. You may also find that following large holiday meals, simple desserts are more satisfying than the more complex concoctions that leave you feeling stuffed and heavier than lead. A single dish of light fruit sorbet can leave you feeling a lot more refreshed than a heavy chocolate fudge combo that contains more calories than the rest of your dinner.

Step Four:


Plan ahead for events that you know will be hard on your diet and a challenge to your willpower. If you are going to a special dinner or party, eat less for lunch, drink plenty of water throughout the afternoon and establish firm rules for your eating behaviour before you arrive at the event.


Resolve to eat only one starter, one dessert, the healthiest main course available, and to go heavy on the salad bar instead of the free bar. For most of us, the real battlefield is in our mind. If we plan ahead for how we will act at dinner, we are much more likely to eat healthily. On the other hand, if we decide when we get there or go with the flow, we'll be more likely to throw caution to the wind and blow all our diet plans.


Remember, it is unlikely that any single factor will make a big difference to your holiday health and fitness. However, if you consistently incorporate several of these survival steps into your holiday lifestyle, you may find yourself in better shape for the New Year than you were in November.


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