My December Small Step gives my readers lots of tips on how to enjoy the merriment of the holiday season without going overboard. But fitness pitfalls during the holidays don’t revolve only around too much food and drink. This week’s post is a nod to strategies geared toward the other realities of the season that make staying fit and healthy a challenge. Namely, we need to find ways to move more, stress out less and avoid getting sick.
Avoid Dead Time: At first glance this may seem oxymoronic when applied to this time of year. Most of us feel like there can’t possibly be enough hours in the day to get everything done. But that confuses free time with dead time.
Dead time is when we don’t really have free time available to us but we spend time doing unproductive tasks. Dead time is filled with things like surfing the web, reading and posting items on social media, standing in lines and sitting in traffic. Nothing productive is happening and time spent doing these things keeps one away from doing more productive things. Some of it is unavoidable. But other dead time activities are avoidable.
We all will have more free time once January 2nd arrives. That’s the time to search for weird cat videos, link to an interesting article on Facebook, tweet about a pop culture event, post selfies on Instagram and a new favorite recipe on Pinterest. Doing any of these things over the next few weeks, however, is time wasted when we could (should) be doing something else.
When we opt for dead time activities over more productive activities, our stress levels increase as more time passes and our task lists get longer. In addition, dead time activities are sedentary. Regular movement is necessary for stress reduction and boosted immunity. Here are some ways to trade in dead time for productive time:
- Connect in a more meaningful way: We all have at least one person in our lives who isn’t active on social media. Take the time to have a conversation with her. If you meet with her in person, suggest taking a walk together. If you’re speaking on the phone, do it hands-free and be active while chatting: fold laundry, do dishes, wrap gifts.
- Make the most of waiting: Whenever possible, use a hand basket over a rolling cart when shopping. Carrying a basket with your items adds quality, in a fitness sense, to all of the walking and standing you do in the store. Be sure to switch the basket to your non-dominant arm for at least half of your store visit. Stuck in traffic? Practice deep breathing techniques. It helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Who doesn’t need a little of that this time of year?
Multitask with Movement: Because of the added stress of this season, we need exercise more than ever. But, because demands on our time is so high, we tend to exercise less. This leads to a vicious cycle of ever-growing stress with no outlet. This is why it’s so important to find exercise opportunities and view them as incremental, small victories. The reality is, you may not get in a few good, long workouts every week right now. But don’t make the mistake of making the alternative doing nothing. As little as ten minutes a few times a day can help a great deal. Here are just two ways to pair up movement with tasks:
- Extra walking: Forget about driving around and around the parking lot waiting for a shopper to leave in the first few rows of spaces near the door. It will probably take less time to park in a spot furthest from the door and walk. Similarly, don’t feel like you must park at the shopping center. Find parking a few blocks away and walk.
- Exert when you can: At the office, mall or parking garage take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator. Have packages or a briefcase? Even better, this adds a bone strengthening component. At home, when you find yourself having to wait for something (such as a laundry cycle to end, the oven to preheat or water to boil) do a couple of sets of 20 squats, lunges, ab crunches or push-ups or a couple of 30 second planks. Do a different exercise each time so that, in a few days, you’ve done full-body strengthening.
Actively Avoid Illness: This season is a perfect storm for germ sharing – it happens to be the beginning of cold and flu season, we’re stressed, not sleeping well, not exercising and we find ourselves in close contact with rooms full of people. There are no guarantees you won’t get sick, but doing these things can lower the risks:
- Get a flu shot: This is the best way to avoid getting the flu. Most large pharmacies offer walk-in flu shot clinics. As a bonus time saver, these stores also tend to be good places to find stocking stuffers and gifts for co-workers, teachers and neighbors.
- Wash hands frequently: Washing thoroughly with warm water and soap several times a day is, by far, the best way to prevent contracting a cold virus.
- Try to avoid hand-to-hand contact: This is a tough one. Just in case, carry a small antibacterial hand gel bottle with you at times when you’re likely to experience unavoidable hand shaking.
These tips aren’t difficult to follow through on but they need to be made a priority to be effective. Just remind yourself that getting through this season in a healthy way will also mean that you’ll enjoy it all the more.