Wreaths are up, fridges are full with turkeys, stuffing, trimmings and booze and we are all ready for that much needed end-of year indulgenceBut how do we strike that healthy balance between eating, drinking and merrying and maintaining our fitness levels such that we feel whole lot less terrified about getting back to it come Jan 1. Here’s how…
1. Commit to working out early – because you won’t do it later, no matter what you tell yourself
‘Run the day, don’t let the day run you,’ says US trainer Meghan Takacs. ‘And go one more minute than you think you can – remember, change starts when you want to stop.’
You’ll also burn more fat for energy if you exercise first thing. A 2010 study in the Journal of Physiology was one of the first to reveal the benefits of ‘fasted training’ – that is, training on an empty stomach, having not eaten since the previous day. Plus morning workouts prime the body to burn fat all day. It’s a win all round.
2. Don’t put off shorter sessions
‘High intensity interval training (HIIT) is the way forward over the festive season. Did you know that just 15 minutes of sprint training that means you benefit from greater fat loss and keep burning calories with what’s known as the ‘afterburn’ effect. So the harder you work, the more calories you burn for the rest of the day.’ A 2010 study showed that just six sessions of six 30 second sprints with 30 seconds rest in-between resulted in participants losing 3cms around the waist in just two weeks – and they also became much more efficient at using body fat as fuel.
3. Become a creature of habit
‘Motivation is usually quite low at this time of year, but if you’re already in the habit of exercising regularly, allow your actions to create motivation rather than vice versa,’ says industry guru Matt Roberts. ‘Even if you tell yourself that today, you’ll just do some stretches, or a light jog, once you get started you’ll probably find that you end up doing your full workout. In other words, you acted first, which boosted motivation.’
4. Make this a time to maintain, not advance, your training
Regular and consistent training is key to maintain fitness levels and weight. Keep training regular and consistent even if its short and sweet.
5. Set (realistic) fitness goals for the new year
Research into goal-setting consistently shows that it increases motivation. Committing to a 5K or 10K in early spring means you have a reason to train – and remembering that makes prioritising fitness that (tiny bit) easier.
6. Make it social
Studies show that when we commit to exercising with other people, we’re more likely to stick to it – and interestingly, a 2016 study from the University of Aberdeen found that those exercising with a new gym partner significantly increased their levels of physical activity. ‘It can also be helpful to take part in a big planned event, such as a park run,’ says sports psychologist Professor Andy Lane of the University of Wolverhampton. ‘They’re a great way to off the day – 300-odd like-minded people sprinting round the course with their Christmas dinners in mind!’
7. Run to the beat
Science shows that exercising to music helps improve both speed and stamina, as well as taking our mind off the pain. In a 2012 review of the research, experts at Brunel University concluded that we might think of music as a type of ‘legal performance-enhancing drug.’ One more good reason to make sure your earphones are untangled and your music player is charged the night before!
8. Remember that something is better than nothing
Don’t set highly ambitious goals over Christmas but keep your body moving, even if it’s just getting out for a walk, do it first thing. Wallowing in bed worrying about the fact you’ve overdone the booze and missed the gym will just make you feel even more demoralised. Even with a hangover, a swift morning walk as the sun is coming up is a great way to start the day – it’s a big positive you can build on.’