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Written for Daily Hive by Sara Hodson, CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic and president of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada.
We look forward to the holiday season all year long! As the treetops glisten, it is wonderful to spend time with those you love and be inspired for the year ahead.
Amidst all of this, your healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to take a holiday.
While in the past we might have used the holidays to overindulge in rich food and alcohol, times have changed. At LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic, we remind our members to stick with a routine as much as possible over the holidays — and it is a lot easier than you think. Here are five ways to avoid the unhealthy landmines the holiday season places in our path, and finish 2022 brimming with health and positivity.
Create active traditions
Who doesn’t love traditions? In Iceland, they have a wonderful tradition called Jolabokaflod, the custom of giving and receiving a book on Christmas Eve and then cuddling by the fire to read together. How incredible is that? According to reports, bookstores are often overrun with demand and have learned to prepare for the deluge.
Here is my suggestion: Canada should be the country known for our active traditions! If you can walk, you can snowshoe! Make it a tradition your family gets active this holiday season. Vancouverites are spoiled for choice where stunning hikes are concerned, and this roundup of 17 of the best hikes for all levels is a great start! And if you want to take it up a notch, this list has intermediate-level hikes, too.
Do not forget the gym this holiday season. Many of our Fitness Industry Council of Canada members will be offering free fitness sessions to gear up for the New Year. Life — and exercise — is so much better with friends! Research shows that exercise in a group adds not only to adherence but enjoyment. Book your workouts a week ahead and stick to them!
Check your alcohol intake
This is a sensitive subject during the holidays because we traditionally think about pairing our festive celebrations with a glass of something. But, how many parties or gatherings are there every season? How much are you really drinking from December 1 to January 1?
How much is too much?
In August 2022 the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction (CCSA) answered that question definitively with their updated guidelines — about two drinks per week is considered “low-risk.” Why? The CCSA states that three to six drinks a week can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, while more than seven drinks per week can increase the risks of heart disease and stroke.
It isn’t to say you can’t enjoy yourself over the holidays, but think about choosing your drinking situations wisely — all parties will have non-alcoholic options where you can always have something in your glass, even if it is sparkling water with a twist of lime.
Never go hungry
Whether it is an office party or shopping, the same rule applies: never show up hungry. There are more temptations everywhere you turn — you only have to stand in the checkout line at any store lately to notice that it is packed with candy and treats. When our body goes into a state of hunger, it triggers the activation of ghrelin, the appetite hormone, causing us to want to eat or to overeat.
The holiday season can be especially hard for people with obesity or struggling to lose weight. A study out of McGill University found that even the sight and smell of food can trigger the production of ghrelin, as well as a dopamine response in your brain. So when you are surrounded by scrumptious and delicious food, you might be more inclined to overeat.
Take your healthy self to the party and fill your plate with the rainbow, allowing yourself to have treats without stacking the plate high with deep-fried goodies and all the sweets. Check-in with hunger, and allow time to pass before refilling your plate. And, stay hydrated.
One of the health trends we have been tracking for years is the power of mindfulness for exercise and nutrition, as well as for stress management. Let’s remember: The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time, and not everyone’s family gathering will have a picture-perfect Hallmark movie ending. This can also lead to stress eating and stress drinking. Learn breathing practices like 4-7-8 if you find your emotions are getting the better of you: breathe in for four counts, hold it for seven, and exhale for eight counts.
One of the most exciting studies in 2022 was the power of a two-minute walk, which, when followed immediately after meals helped reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. There is nothing that a brisk walk can’t cure.
Be kind to yourself
If you have a night or a weekend where you overindulge, let it go quickly and make a healthy choice again as soon as you can — whether it is a workout or a meal full of veggies. One of the greatest challenges we will ever face is self-sabotage, and at LIVE WELL we remind members to talk to themselves with kindness and empathy. Perhaps you put on weight in the last year, or you haven’t been exercising as much. This is a fantastic time to reflect on where you have been and set intentions for where you want to be this time next year.
By all means, use the holidays to recharge your batteries and rest. But look at the extra time as a gift you can give yourself — one of the greatest forms of self-care is health. We shouldn’t need to take a vacation from our healthy lifestyle.