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Holidays offer chances to squeeze in exercise

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There are less than 10 days between now and Thanksgiving Day. So, ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. It is a great time of the year to enjoy family and friends, but all of the social activities on top of our usual demands can present challenges to staying healthy.

Additional obligations and time constraints can increase stress levels and reduce opportunities for stress release unless we have a prevention plan. It is all too easy to let daily exercise and healthful eating take a back seat to everything else.

QUESTION: Are there any significant consequences to disrupting routine exercise and food habits for the six-week holiday season at the end of the year?

ANSWER: The consequences depend both on a person’s present exercise and eating routines and their current health status. However, it is a common time of the year to gain weight. A 10-pound weight gain is not unusual for some people. Perhaps half of that will be lost in January, but a yearly 5-pound net weight gain can build over the years. In a decade, that’s a 50-pound gain that can greatly increase health risks.

Q: What are some good ways to fit exercise into holiday routines?

A: Although it is great to have large blocks of time to get in a good workout, exercise benefits can come from more frequent small bouts of activity. Consider taking advantage of the "run around" aspect of the holidays.

One way to do this is to get a pedometer and track how many steps you are walking daily. It is generally considered that 10,000 steps equal about 5 miles of walking. This may actually be a reasonable substitute for your usual exercise routine. For some of us, it might even be an improvement.

Your pedometer reading can serve as a simple guide to help you decide to park a bit farther from the store and even decide that you should window shop a bit longer to get in your walking while fitting in holiday shopping.

By the way, 10,000 steps also are considered the number of steps needed in successful weight-loss programs. So getting into the step routine can be used all year to help maintain a healthy exercise routine.

Also, bear in mind that shopping can burn a significant amount of extra calories that can be considered exercise. Standing in line requires about twice the calories of lying on the couch and walking briskly burns about twice as many calories as standing in line. A two-hour shopping spree can be a significant workout if approached with vigor. Along with the mall walking, stair-stepping opportunities can briefly up the intensity and offer a fitness boost when included in the shop-a-thon.

Q: What are the most important principles to remember about nutrition during these busy days?

A: Consuming all of your essential nutrients doesn’t change just because you are busy. To maintain health, eat a good balance of a variety of foods and don’t let the goodies edge out a balanced diet.

Q: How can a person maintain a healthy diet when there is little time to prepare foods at home?

A: Holidays or not, this is often a bit of a challenge. But it just comes down to keeping the foundation of your eating balanced across the major food groups along with moderate enjoyment of those special seasonal treats.

So, it is possible to fit goodies into a healthful diet and it is possible to stay active during the holidays. Approach the season with vigor and give yourself the gift of health.

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.
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