Holiday Fitness Hacks (and Facts)

Five sneaky ways to stay in shape this season

During the holidays, “S” doesn’t just stand for Santa. It stands for such diet saboteurs as stress, socially sanctioned overindulgence, and super abundant high-calorie food.

The good news is you can forget the myth about Americans packing on an average of 5 pounds over the holidays. Research has shown that the average holiday weight gain is much closer to one pound. That’s a minor Christmas miracle in and of itself, given the sweet temptations that exist at every turn of our holiday landscape.

Since holiday heft accounts for about half your yearly weight gain, if you make it through the holidays unscathed, you’re already ahead of the game.

Bad news: If you do gain that pound and keep it on, a repeat performance year after year could put you on the path of a health-threatening weight problem.

If don’t want to hurt Aunt Mabel’s feelings by turning down an extra helping of ham, or if you feel like Scrooge for refusing a homemade cookie (or two), then you’ll have to find ways to kick up the calorie burn.

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Still, you don’t have to run a Parkour course through snow-covered streets to neutralize those calorie sins. Here are five relatively painless and simple tips for keeping fit throughout the season of excess.

Park in the Boonies
How many of us have circled a parking lot for 10 minutes looking for the closest space, when parking a little farther away would have actually taken less time and just a little more effort? During the holidays, just commit to taking the farthest spot — at work, the shopping mall or the grocery store. Bonus points: Make this season and the new year a no-escalator and elevator zone, within reason, of course.

Think ‘How,’ Not ‘Why’
All year long we remind ourselves to exercise because it’s good for us. But when researchers from the Texas Christian University told volunteers to focus on either “reasons” or “actions,” the action-focused group ended up exercising about 230 percent longer than the “reasons” group on a weekly basis.

Chill Out to Burn More
Lower energy bills aren’t the only benefit of turning down the heat. When volunteers alternated 12-hour periods in rooms heated to either 80 degrees or 60 degrees, the latter resulted in a 6 percent increase in calories burned without significant changes in physical activity. Moreover, exposure to lower temperatures also resulted in a 13 percent increase in fatty acid levels in the blood, indicating that fat stores were being mobilized. The mechanism is a process called thermogenesis, the conversion of calories to body heat.

Forget the Gym — Just Go Outside
Kick into high gear by moving your workout outside. While various factors influence the impact — including the intensity of your workout and your body mass — the calories burned by simply walking, ice skating, shoveling snow or building a snowman (if you can find enough snow) are great ways to keep off the pounds.

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Related: 12 Days of Christmas Workouts

Dress the Part
Fitness instructor Stacey McNeal, who is based in Malibu, California, said: “It never hurts to splurge on holiday-themed workout attire to get you in the mood for exercise. My husband got adorable leggings for me that I’ve been rocking at the studio all December.”

One bonus tip that isn’t strictly fitness related but is an effective motivator for the more visually inclined: Grab a sheet of graph paper and mark your weight on a daily basis, plotting a line through entries to make a chart.

Cornell University researchers found that using this method helped female coeds avoid a 7-pound weight gain over a 12-week semester. The effectiveness of this technique is likely due to the combination of daily accountability and visual feedback.

Also, family time can be a huge help. Whether it’s going outside for a round of touch football before dinner or enlisting the troops in cleaning up after the big meal, making family time more active is good for the body, and soul.

“We have two very active children, ages 3 and 4,” said Texas-bred McNeal. “They are my ‘real’ workout.”

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