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How to Maintain Your Momentum During the Holidays

If you work hard all year to develop your “fitness habit,” you might get a little nervous during the holiday season.

Will you lose your momentum?

Will your cardiovascular fitness suffer?

Will you get weaker?

Will you gain weight?

We get questions like that all the time as the end of December approaches. Here are the answers!

Habits and Science

Habits can be hard to break. That’s a bad thing when you’re talking about bad habits, but it’s great when you’re dealing with healthy habits. You have a long-term fitness habit, and it’s unbreakable.

If you work out regularly all year, rest assured that you will not lose all your momentum if you miss a few workouts over the holidays.

And you probably won’t lose any physical progress at all. The truth is that V02 max—one measure of aerobic fitness—decreases about 4 or 5 percent after about 10 days if you stop training completely. Strength and muscle mass start to decrease after two to four weeks of inactivity.

All that is great news.

First, I know you aren’t going to be inactive over the holidays. Even if you train half as much, you aren’t quitting cold turkey, so you shouldn’t expect to lose any progress.

Second, the holiday period usually runs from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2 or so. That’s just 10 days. So your strength and muscle are more than safe, and if you throw in a few workouts, your conditioning is very safe, too.

As for weight gain, WebMD.com reported that research published in the Journal of Obesity shows the average holiday weight gain is about 0.8 to 2 lb.

But remember this: You aren’t average. You focus on health and fitness, and you don’t have to gain any weight at all. Yes, some people are off work and don’t work out or move much over the holidays. They sit on the couch and nap after huge meals, and they snack a lot. And they drink too much. All of that can result in weight gain.

But people who have a few great meals with family but stay active can expect to maintain their weight. A hearty meal or two won’t cause instant weight gain, the same way a protein shake doesn’t instantly add rippling muscle to your arms.

The Best Plan

You should enjoy the holidays, and if that means you miss a few workouts, don’t sweat it.

But I don’t want you to break any habits or start feeling worried, so do this: Plan to get in at least two or three workouts between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3. They can be “official gym workouts” or just something simple in the garage or the park.

The important thing: Plan these workouts. Put them on the calendar so you do them.

In between workouts, plan two or three “activities.” They can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood to look at lights or heading to the local hill to sled. Put these things on the calendar, too.

If you have big meals on the schedule, eat veggies and low-fat fare in the other meals that day. Eat nutritious food on the days after you feast.

Stick to this plan and enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about a meal or a cookie or lost fitness. You can look at the calendar and realize you’ve programmed six activities in 12 days, and you’ll feel better. And you’ll realize you’re eating nutritious food regularly, too.

People run into trouble when they think, “I haven’t worked out in weeks!” That can set a person back and kill momentum. But if you can always say “I did something for my health just the other day,” you’ll never feel like you’re losing steam.

Don’t worry: A day off or two won’t harm your fitness, and if you stick to my plan, you’ll carry a ton of momentum into 2024.

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