Healthy Holiday Tips
The holidays are just about here, and with them comes a season of excess for many people, which often lasts through the New Year. The trouble is, that this means too much food, alcohol and sitting around—both on long journeys and watching college football—while the exercise and healthy eating routines cultivated all year long come to a halt. The results? Weight gain, losing paddling and workout progress, as well as a lack of motivation heading into 2015.
Luckily, there’s a way to navigate through the minefield of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, holiday parties and football snack fests without throwing away all your hard work. Here are five tips that will not only help you avoid holiday pitfalls, but also enable you to finish the year strong and (hopefully) healthy.
1. Pack in pumpkin and sweet potatoes
We know that pumpkin pie isn’t exactly health food, at least if you’re talking Grandma’s 800-calories-a-slice recipe. But if you make your own version without the lard and less sugar (replace the former with coconut oil or grass-fed butter for a slow, ketonic energy source, and cut the latter by at least half), it’s actually not so bad. In fact, pumpkin is a rich source of vitamin A, which studies show boost your immune system. That’s the same reason you can also dig into sweet potatoes over the holidays—as long as they’re not loaded down with a bunch of not-so-healthy toppings (marshmallows aren’t a food group). Going back to pumpkin, the seeds also pack a nutritional punch for paddlers like Kip Hoffman, who eats them for protein and zinc, which can reduce the likelihood and duration of colds.
2. Indulge your cranberry craving
Cranberries are another seasonal favorite that you shouldn’t shy away from in the next few weeks. These tart red berries not only prevent infections, but are also believed to help prevent lung, prostate, colon and other cancers. In addition, cranberries are thought to improve cardiovascular function by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The little red superstars are also rich sources of disease-fighting antioxidants. Make your own cranberry salad with omega-3 rich walnuts and oranges, which are chock-full of vitamin C and zinc, and are (surprisingly, given their sweet taste) a low-glycemic food that won’t spike your blood sugar.
3. Stay hydrated
Far be it from us to tell you not to drink a few beers or glasses of wine over the holidays. But if you are going to have a few nights with more than one drink, it will be difficult to stay hydrated. Dr. Stacy Sims from Osmo Nutrition has found that in situations where we think we’ll be dehydrated, we often drink too much water, leading to flushing out electrolytes. For endurance exercise, she recommends adding a pinch of sea salt to your water to maintain sodium levels, and the same theory holds when counteracting the effects of alcohol. And, if you aren’t going to be consuming alcohol, you should still remember that the travel and stress of this busy season can deplete hydration levels, so you too need to make sure you’re getting enough fluids.
4. Fit in quick workouts
Do you want to lose all your fitness gains you made this year? That’s exactly what can happen if you let your workouts slide over the next six weeks. If you’re unable to keep up your regular paddling, running, lifting or whatever your chosen activities are, then at least commit to three quick exercise sessions per week.
After warming up for at least five minutes with easy cardio and dynamic movements such as lunges, hip circles and jumping rope, you can easily do one of the following:
1. Go for a 20-minute paddle, run, or rowing machine session, or, try for a moderate distance goal such as a 5K.
2. Choose three to five compound exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, dips, pullups and push presses, then perform a circuit of each. Vary the reps and rest periods to dial in a challenging level of intensity.
3. Go weights-free and do bodyweight exercises such as burpees, pushups, lunges, box jumps and mountain climbers. You can get creative here by choosing the same number of reps for each exercise (20-20-20-20, etc.) or following the CrossFit approach and setting a time limit and then doing an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) before the end.
Even if you’re pushed for time, always finish with a five-minute cool down and some mobility exercises (see examples for the upper body here, and the lower body here) to help your body flush out lactic acid and other byproducts, and ensure your soft tissues don’t lock up.
5. Get off the couch!
From long road trips, to cramped plane flights, to holiday movie marathons (“You’ll shoot your eye out!), the holidays keep us sitting more than ever. While it can be relaxing to take a load off, too much chair time can be profoundly damaging to our health in many ways. Sitting creates a lot of body angles that standing or lying down does not, at the ankles, knees, hips, etc. This can cause us to tighten up all over (think about how hard it is to get out of that La-Z-Boy at halftime), leading to impingements that limit daily movement and exercise performance.
Sitting for long periods also minimizes calorie burning (to just one calorie per minute, which isn’t going to make a dent in that Thanksgiving buffet!) and shuts down the lymphatic system, which flushes out waste, and transports nutrients and oxygenated blood around the body. The worst thing about staying on the couch? It can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. Thankfully there’s a simple remedy: keep moving throughout each day, stand when possible and if you’ve been sitting for a long time, take a walk or fit in that workout from the third holiday tip (above) to minimize the damage.