Health Corner: Creating better habits during the holidays – Dec. 4, 2015

by Marissa Pierce, CaFT Contributing writer

The holiday season is here which means Thanksgiving leftovers, countless family gatherings and holiday parties. After the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, many of us break out our New Year’s resolutions with the feeling of guilt from uncontrollable indulging over the holiday season.

However, before all the madness gets underway, now is the perfect time to consciously begin making healthier choices. At first it can be difficult, but over time these choices can become healthy habits which leads to a healthier life.

A balanced combination of exercise, nutrition and proper sleep all contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Beginning by making one small change at a time is a good start to making all of these part of your everyday life.

For the average adult, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, and strength training at least twice per week. That is only thirty minutes a day of aerobic training and perhaps some extra time to add in some strength training.

If you don’t think you have time to go to the gym between all of the holiday shopping and gift wrapping, don’t stress. There are other ways to get exercise in, such as jogging or biking around your neighborhood. For the strength training days, there are plenty of great body weight exercises that require no equipment: Pushups, situps, squats and lunges are just a few excellent exercises that work the major muscles of your body.

If time is an issue for you, a quick but highly effective workout option is called Tabata interval training. Pick an exercise, such as pushups, complete as many repetitions as you can for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds. Do this eight times, rest one minute and then pick another exercise. This interval training uses four exercises total, and the entire process only takes about 15 minutes. If you put forth maximum effort, you will be dripping with sweat, and your strength training will be completed for the day. Also know that Tabata training isn’t for everyone because of its intensity, high impact and short recovery period, so decide what exercise routine is best for you.

If you are still thinking that you don’t have the time between the gift wrapping and holiday shopping, reflect on what activities consume your day. There may be times when you are spending hours catching up on your favorite TV show or scrolling through Facebook. That could be the perfect opportunity to reflect on your fitness goals, turn off the technology and get your sweat on.

However, no matter how much you workout, it is all for naught if you do not nourish your body properly. Some simple guidelines to go by are: drink plenty of water and other non-sugary liquids, keep your sugar intake as low as possible and avoid eating processed foods. It’s also very helpful to use an online calorie calculator to determine how many calories you consume on a daily basis. Having a fitness app such as MyFitnessPal is good for logging the foods you eat as well as your daily activity. More often than not, we actually eat much more than we think we do, especially during the holidays.

The next time you are on a grocery shopping trip, take the time to check out your options. Many times there are healthier products sitting right next to the convenient, processed items many of us are tempted to buy. Checking out the nutrition facts will help you to determine what is more or less processed. Two big things to quickly glance at on the nutrition label: sugar content and the ingredients list. Too much sugar is bad for you, period. The less of it you consume the better. When you are looking at the ingredients list, less is always more.

Now that you have the proper exercise and nutrition down, don’t forget about sleep. This is the only chance our body gets to completely shut down and repair itself. Being well rested helps us feel and perform better, and it also helps ward off illnesses. The age-old advice of getting eight hours a night is still great advice, but some of us may need a little more. Begin signaling your body to relax by winding down about an hour before you go to bed. This will help you fall asleep faster.

So instead of looking in the mirror on New Year’s day with a frown on your face, start making healthier choices today. By the time the holiday season is in full swing, these choices will have turned into habits, and you will already have a jump start on your resolutions for the new year.

(Marissa Pierce is a certified fitness trainer and KA contributing writer.)