The Gift of Exercise

By Carrie Barrett – December 4, 2013

Give yourself a pat on the back. You've survived Thanksgiving and are now running full speed into the December festivities of frenzied holiday hoopla. If you've ever needed a multi-sport mode on your watch to monitor your activities, now would be the perfect time. Your traditional swim-bike-run mode becomes shop-wrap-eat. December is the month where everyone becomes an endurance athlete, because it takes stamina to get through it. December is also the month where our regular fitness routines take a back seat to Snickerdoodles and eggnog. Although it can be daunting to get out of your regular routine, don't fret. Exercise comes in many forms, and even the most non-traditional activity can alleviate holiday stress and protect your sanity.

Exercise as a Holiday Stress Reliever 

I have a membership to LifeTime Fitness, and it's not just because of the decadent spa-like atmosphere (although that certainly doesn't hurt). I have a membership, in part, because they have locations in all of my family holiday hotspots: Austin, San Antonio, and Columbus, Ohio! The formula is the same regardless of locale and last name. Holidays + Family = Stress. I love going to a gym when I'm home for the holidays. Not only does it get me out of the house for a few hours, but it feels like vacation. I get to sample new classes and different instructors. I get to make a fool of myself in yoga knowing I'll likely never see these people again (at least until next Christmas). In fact, I discovered my inner kickboxer last year when I was home for Thanksgiving. You can bet I was full of gratitude when I was kicking the hell out of the air with the force of Tyson. Unfortunately, my hamstring hasn't been the same since.

Stress leads to some irrational behavior, especially during the holiday season around our loved ones. Some of us eat too much, some of us drink too much, some of us brood with contempt like Scrooge, and others make a sport of passive aggressive “joking.” Instead of giving in, take it out on your nearest treadmill, trail, spin class, or CrossFit WOD. Everyone will be better for it, and you'll feel less guilty about the holiday gluttony.

Exercise as a Way to Justify the Grub 

I'm not even going to try to excuse my way out of this one. I love to eat. I come from a lineage of short, but stout, Italians. In fact, I'm pretty sure my Grandma Sergio rowed the boat into Ellis Island herself. If she didn't, she definitely spent the whole ride yelling orders to the captain who did. Her biggest legacy to our family (besides her not-so-girlish figure) was her love of all things with white flour and starch. Every year, a bunch of kids, grand kids, and cousins get together in her honor to make homemade spaghetti and ravioli for Christmas Day. This isn't your average Chef Boyardee ravioli, either. These babies are as big as your face and stuffed with a combination of meat, spinach, and ricotta cheese. Paleo fanatics and vegans can finally agree on one thing: There is nothing healthy about this epic dose of egg and white flour stuffed with meat and cheese. I actually have gotten better over the last few years with portion control and knowing my limits. I try to fill up at least two-thirds of my plate with salad and veggies. I'm the girl who brings a kale dish to share, which means I get it all to myself. It allows me to participate in tradition and set a good example. It's a good strategy, and I'm used to being mocked for my strange, healthy eating habits. Sitting around the room with 70 of my loved ones makes me happy and full. If I have to run five (or 15) extra miles, so be it.

Exercise as a Bonding Experience 

If you have a chance, head outside for a walk with a sibling or a parent. Better yet, participate in a holiday fun run together. It's definitely time well spent, especially if you beat said sibling in the race.

Help your parents rake leaves or shovel snow. My parents are in their mid-70s and still cut about four to five yards every week during the summer. In the fall, they are raking leaves for neighbors half their age. Winter wouldn't be the same if my dad wasn't walking his snowblower up and down driveways. It keeps them moving and “it gives Dad something to do,” as my mom would say. Rare bonding moments like these not only cure cabin fever but can also bring you closer together. There's something about a combination of endorphins and helping those you love that make you want to just hug each other and sing “Joy to the World!”

Wrapping Up Fitness 

Exercise is a gift to ourselves during the holiday season, and it can also be a great gift to others. If you've given your sister cute scarves for the last few years, give her a membership to a yoga or Pilates studio. Cycle studios, pure barre, CossFit, and boot camps are just a few examples of new fitness trends that appeal to people of all ages and fitness levels. Plus, they're a heck of a lot more effective than last year's shake weight and Snuggie that are sitting in the back of the closet waiting to be regifted at the next white elephant party!

I think I figured out why Grandma got run over by a reindeer. She was on her way to the gym for a little stress reliever! Happy holidays, and I'll see you at the gym—after I indulge in the homemade spaghetti!



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