…by Mary Pearsall

The holidays are right around the corner, but that doesn\’t have to mean disaster for your health and fitness program. With a pen, paper and about a half hour of “thinking time,” you can create a simple wellness (sanity) plan that will help you stay balanced, healthy and active through the holiday season.

To begin, determine the time frame (e.g., six weeks) when your schedule is most likely to be interrupted. Then write down the challenges you anticipate, such as “Aunt Jane\’s fudge” or “won\’t be able to do my walk because it will be 20 below zero at my in-laws house in Alaska.”

Finally, write down your objectives for this time period. Include a minimum number of workouts for each week, basic eating guidelines and special goals (perhaps “volunteer at the homeless shelter”). Just taking the time to anticipate challenges and plan objectives will help you make better choices and feel more in control of your circumstances.

The next step in your wellness strategy is to creatively apply the principles of the 3 key fitness-training areas – cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility. Draw 3 columns on your plan and label them “Heart Health,” “Strong” and “Flexible.” Then write down ideas for each in the corresponding column.

Heart Health. Plan to do cardiovascular activity several times a week during the holidays, but be realistic. And don\’t be hard on yourself if you don\’t get in your regular number of workouts. Just concentrate on maintaining, not raising your fitness level. Get out for a walk and a little quiet time early in the morning before all the holiday activities begin. And remember shorter workouts are better than none. Increasing intensity of your workouts will increase calorie burn and will give you more bang for your buck. Do 10 or 20 minutes of a fitness videotape. Park a long way from the mall entrance and use the walking time to focus and regroup before shopping.

To keep your eating habits heart-healthy, carry water and healthy snacks with you, and don\’t skip meals. Eat healthy foods before those holiday parties so you don\’t arrive starving and eat everything on the buffet table. And talk, talk, talk to your friends as you walk around. The more you talk the less you will eat!

Staying Strong. Holidays generally aren\’t the time to increase your strength sessions or add more resistance to your program. One session a week is enough to maintain your strength until after the busy season. Buy inexpensive weights to use at home and resistance bands for traveling. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges can be done anytime, anywhere and can be easily added at the end of your cardio workout. Or you can intersperse them during your cardio for a type of circuit workout.

Flexibility. Plan to do some simple daily stretches and find some time for some longer relaxation sessions. These workouts will help you slow down and “hear” what your body needs – such as more rest or activity. Flexibility (physical, mental and emotional) may well be one of your most important holiday assets. Plan to be 80 percent healthy; aiming for 100 per cent could make you crazy!

After the holidays are over, ask yourself one question: Did I have fun? You can always get back on a healthy eating and exercise schedule, but you can never get back the time you spent feeling guilty and miserable. After all, your goal during the holidays should be not just to survive them, but to enjoy them. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!