Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

Here we go again. It’s that time of year where people start dragging out the same tired, worn-out clichés about “the holidays.”

As a health and fitness leader, you want to avoid being a cliché, too. You know who I’m talking about—the trainers who talk about working off the drinks and doughnuts and putting people through tough workouts to punish them for the sins of eating. These flawed approaches create the wrong concept of exercise in people.

If we want people to think differently about eating and exercise, we must be different. To help you help others successfully navigate the holidays, here are some helpful health hacks for the holidays. Use these with your clients and students to help them sail through the holidays while maintaining fitness, feeling positive, and starting the new year with energy and enthusiasm.

1. Define your treat days. Plan your treats on the actual holidays only—Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Day, New Year’s Eve, etc., or other noteworthy days like the office or church holiday party. This way, you have a game plan for a limited number of pre-determined days where you’ll allow yourself to enjoy some favored treats, and you’ll avoid the often random and endless parade of junk food that finds its way in front of you during the holidays.

define your treats

2. Define your treats. Create a list of your favorite/cherished holiday treats (no more than three) and commit to only having those during the holidays. It can be a favorite pie that a family member makes during the holidays, a special dessert that you enjoy at this time of year, or the occasional seasonal treat such as a peppermint latte. Make a list of your favorites and stick to those. And remember, a treat is an occasional thing—not an everyday thing. Having a peppermint latte is dessert, not your morning coffee.

3. It's the holi-DAYS, not the holi-MONTHS. Starting with Halloween, it seems that we often treat all of November and December as if there are no health rules. We eat and drink whatever sugary or alcoholic beverages come out way and skip workouts because “Hey, it’s the holidays, and you’ve got to celebrate.” With this perspective, it’s actually two full months—one-sixth of our entire year—that we spend derailing health with poor choices because we have to “live a little.” It’s essentially an extended sabbatical from sensible choices, and that’s too long if we want to be healthy.

move with a smile

4. Move with a smile. It can be harder to get full workouts in with travel schedules and visiting relatives. Shift the focus to doing what you can rather than what you are unable to do. Pick an activity (not exercise) that:

  • Puts a smile on your face and in your heart and/or
  • You are doing with loved ones, friends, etc.

This might sound corny, but it works. Get moving doing something you love with people you love. The positive effect on mood and mindset is almost magical. Moving while doing something fun with the important people in your life does more for you than just moving or just spending time with loved ones. The combination strengthens connections between people while enhancing the health of each individual.

5. Guarantee your workouts. Make your exercise commitment small enough so that there is no way you can’t fit it in. The busyness of the holidays often means you may not have time for your full workout, but fortunately even abbreviated workouts offer great benefits. Whatever you do has benefit so make sure you do something.Here are some ideas for you to give your clients when they are short on time:

  • Try a mini-routine of four or five of your favorite exercises and do each as a circuit for five to 10 minutes continuously.
  • If you don’t have any favorite exercises or simply want something to try, try this routine. Repeat the following three exercises as a circuit two or three times.
    1. Table-top Hip Bridge (video) (10 reps)
    2. Squat with Alternating Floor Tap – Stand with feet slightly wider than usual for a squat. Squat while reaching down with your right hand to touch the floor at the bottom of the movement. Return to standing and tap with the left hand on the next rep (20 reps, alternating hands each time)
    3. Plank Side Walk In (This is the second of the three exercises shown in this video) (10 reps, alternating sides each time)

adjust your weather mindset

6. Adjust your weather mindset. The hardest part of winter isn’t the cold; it’s all the complaining. That’s the truly endless part of winter. If you live in the upper half of North America, it’s going to be cold in the winter. This isn’t a surprise, so accept it. Find things to appreciate and be grateful for (clean, crisp air; uncrowded hiking trails, winter activities like ice skating, skiing, snowboarding and snowball fights; making snowmen and snow angels; helping your elderly neighbor shovel out, etc.) and shift your mindset to stop allowing yourself to suffer so much. Suffering is a choice. Cold weather is not.

Many people I've coached over the years experience significant anxiety about the approach of the holidays and the seemingly uncontrollable forces that propel them away from health. Applying the strategies that make the most sense for each of your clients’ situations will help ensure this never happens again. You will lead people to a different perspective, which, in turn, will lead to a different health outcome during the holidays. There is nothing more wonderful than seeing people learn to choose wisely at this time of year and then flowing right into a new year feeling great. And they will not forget the role you played in creating this new perspective.