A Happy, Healthy Holiday

This season is often thought of as a time when fitness is doomed to suffer, but the holiday season can actually be a great opportunity to approach health and wellness holistically.

It’s that time of year! This season brings family traditions, exciting travel, delicious food, and much needed time off from work and school—all great things. While there is much to love about the holiday season, athletes are often apprehensive about it.. After all, the food is rich, treats and sweets are plentiful, and between the time spent traveling to see loved ones and the sun setting before 5:00 PM, there hardly seems time to work out, much less time to progress toward fitness goals.

Here’s the good news: with some planning, flexibility, and a shift in perspective, the holiday season can be an amazing part of your larger wellness journey. Here are three tips to make this time of year part of your success story.

1.  Bring your wellness with you.

Don’t let leaving your normal space sap your motivation: bring your workout and your nutrition on the road.

You might not have access to a rink near your grandma’s house, for example, but traveling is an amazing opportunity to reap the benefits of cross-training, even if you can’t get into a weight room. A simple set of resistance bands— like these—can tuck easily into a suitcase and provide a great strength routine you can complete from a hotel room, spare bedroom, or even while watching a holiday movie! (Hint: they’d be a great gift to add to a gift list!) Even if you don’t pack anything at all, your body is an amazing fitness tool: search “calisthenics” on the internet to find bodyweight-only exercises that are a perfect fit, no matter where you are.

Another great way to bring wellness with you is by packing nourishing snacks. Long hours on the road make everyone hungry, and being in kitchens that aren’t your own can make it tough to find nutrient-rich fuel for your body. Here’s where a little planning comes in handy: ask a parent, friend, or coach to help you plan ahead by building a little snack stash for yourself. Apples, nut butter, beef sticks, and nutrient-dense bars all travel really well, and they’ll help you feel full and satisfied for longer

2.  Make fitness a family affair.

Another way to make the holidays an incredible part of your fitness experience is by sharing your enthusiasm for wellness with your loved ones. Maybe your great aunt isn’t excited about push-ups, but maybe she’s interested in a walk around the neighborhood. Maybe your cousins want to play a pickup football game. Maybe your family friends would want to have a fruit smoothie cooking contest—maybe your dad could be the judge!

Thinking creatively about sharing your excitement for wellness in fun and lighthearted ways can be a great way to continue pursuing your goals and make meaningful memories at the same time.

3.  Enjoy the treats and the rest. Seriously.

Celebrations this time of year are often synonymous with big, rich, long meals that end with sugary treats; enjoying these traditions often sparks guilt in athletes, because they feel like they’re cheating on a routine.

This guilt misses the fact that fitness isn’t just physical: quality time with loved ones is an integral part of wellness, and there is no guilt in relishing time spent renewing connections with the most important people in your life.

It’s also important to take breaks: rest helps your body renew and repair, and well-rested athletes tend to return stronger and healthier than their peers who don’t take breaks.

Some athletes might be interested to know that occasional large and indulgent meals can actually help to boost metabolism! One study found that increasing calorie intake sparks more leptin production in the body–a hormone integral to metabolism and energy—by almost 30 percent for 24 hours. Occasional overindulgence, in context of an otherwise healthy diet, can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

In other words, only skip the cookies if you’re too full! You should feel free to celebrate the season.