Sign up for CNN’s Stress, But Less newsletter. Our six-part guide will inform and inspire you to reduce stress while learning how to harness it.
The holiday season can bring much joy, but it can be a challenging time for maintaining your health and fitness. Between the added pressure of social events and opportunities to overindulge, it’s all too easy to throw in the towel, resolving to get back on track in the new year.
But the holidays don’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. With the right mindset, you can enjoy the season without sabotaging your well-being.
To help you holiday-proof your fitness, I tapped the expert advice of my friend, celebrity trainer Don Saladino, who works with some of Hollywood’s heavy hitters, including Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Anne Hathaway and John Krasinski. Since celebrities are no strangers to partying, I asked Saladino to share tips he gives his clients to sail through the season without wreaking havoc on their health-minded goals.
Celebrity or not, we all need to focus on smart strategies to keep holiday stress and indulgences from pushing us over the edge. Here’s advice you can put into action now.
1. Maintain a healthy mindset
“Your goal should be to actively appreciate the holidays, while fully in control of your choices,” according to Saladino.
This time of year is meant to be enjoyed, but too many of us lose sight of that and spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for celebrating. Enjoying seasonal treats is OK — so let go of those feelings of guilt.
You know those cookies Mom baked with love? No need to deny yourself. Remind yourself that you have control; you can eat one or two without devouring a dozen. Remember, you are happily — not guiltily — making decisions.
2. Do the math
Too many fit people spend time needlessly stressing about a small percentage of indulgent meals they eat during the holidays, Saladino said. He urges them to “do the math.”
From mid-November to January 1, there are about 45 days. If you eat an average of three meals a day, that’s135 meals. Having a few brunches and several decadent dinners over the course of that time will not derail your fitness if your other meals remain healthy. Let’s say you had a dozen rich holiday meals — that’s still less than 9% of your overall meals.
3. Don’t punish yourself with exercise
This goes hand and hand with keeping a healthy mindset. Exercise shouldn’t be used to overcome “bad” holiday behavior. In fact, Saladino said he cuts back his clients’ training volume and frequency during the holidays to help reduce the demand on their schedules while maintaining consistency. Keeping them in “the right frame of mind is most important,” he said, so he urges them to keep workouts under 40 minutes with the intent of simply breaking a sweat and helping them manage stress.
4. Stay satiated
Another tip Saladino said he gives all of his clients is to stay satiated so they don’t arrive ravenous at holiday events, where there are limited healthy options. If you’ve ever tried to grocery shop when you were hungry and ended up with lots of unhealthy snacks in your cart, you know why this is sound advice.
If possible, eat a healthy meal, or at least a filling snack, like nuts or yogurt, before heading to a party.
Staying hydrated also fills you up and keeps you from reaching for food when you’re actually thirsty. The biggest stressor dehydration puts on your body isn’t simply fluid loss, but the significant amount of electrolytes lost with it. Electrolytes are essential minerals responsible for electrical energy involved in bodily functions, like muscle contractions, including cardiac activity, and nerve impulses. Loss of electrolytes due to dehydration will make you feel rundown and contributes to that hungover feeling (if you also drink too much alcohol).
With the colder weather, dryer indoor air and increased likelihood that you are drinking festive cocktails, it’s easier to become dehydrated more quickly, so try to have a bottle of electrolyte-enriched water or other non-sugary drink readily available.
6. Imbibe strategically
Speaking of drinking alcohol, Saladino gives what he said is unpopular but effective advice:
“Instead of focusing on the calories in the drink, pick heavier drinks that you have to sip and will make you feel full, so you end up drinking less overall.” Think spiked eggnog over the candy cane martini.
According to Saladino, the biggest issue with alcohol isn’t so much the calorie intake as it is the overall intake – leading to lapses in self-control that can lead to making poor food and life choices.
7. Keep stress in check
Whether it’s the effects of shorter, darker days and increased schedule demands or family-related anxiety, the holidays can take a toll. Added stress can result in poor decision-making, stress eating and physical tension. That’s why it’s important to proactively practice self-care.
Carve out a few minutes a day away for meditation, breathing focus or gratitude. As little as five minutes of this mindfulness practice each day lowers stress and anxiety, research has shown. In addition to the workouts Saladino recommended, take steps to release even more tension with techniques like foam rolling and massage.
8. Sneak in consistent daily exercise
During this busy time of year, I also recommend training smarter not harder. That means choosing consistency over quantity by fitting in exercise every day where it makes the most sense in your lifestyle and schedule. One of the most effective ways to integrate exercise is by stacking it onto another daily habit. For instance, for years now, I’ve been doing push-ups before getting in the shower and body-weight squats while I brush my teeth — every time, every day.
9. Don’t cave until the new year!
With all the opportunities to overindulge, you might find yourself overdoing it at a holiday party and, in the moment, letting go of self-control. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of “new year, new you.” But remember that the calendar has nothing to do with changing your health and fitness.
You get a fresh start every day — not every year. “Don’t give up. Get back on track the next day,” Saladino says.
10. Get enough sleep
Too often during the holidays, we spread ourselves thin keeping up with work and daily life responsibilities while also meeting the season’s demands. It’s crucial that you give your body and mind the time and rest needed to recover each night. Sleep is a key factor in the function of your metabolism and immune system; as such, not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep per night can lead to weight gain, illness and other negative health implications.
To adequately process those holiday meals and avoid picking up a seasonal sickness, you need to prioritize rest. If you have trouble sleeping, try these breathing techniques to help.
Remember that being healthy is your lifestyle, not your resolution. Following the tips above, you can enjoy the holidays without derailing your health and wellness.
Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”