This is either the most wonderful time of the year or the hardest and most stressful. Either way, for most of us, it’s a time when exercise routines lag. It’s easy to forget about fitness from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. The problem is, come January, starting over is hard.
The secret to staying at it during the holidays is to avoid an all-or-nothing attitude. When you hear yourself think, “I have to work out for an hour or it’s not worth it,” reframe that notion. Getting active for just 15 minutes will help you maintain your exercise habit — and elevate your mood.
Start by sneaking a little cardio into your holiday preparations. It helps if you commit to shopping locally. Head to Holly Folly or a Holiday Stroll and walk briskly through downtown for 15 minutes, then turn back and hit the stores. Another strategy is to socialize on the move. Instead of meeting friends for drinks, plan a group hike.
As for strength training, accept that there will be days when there’s no time for the gym. No matter: here’s a mini strength session you can do at home.
Set aside 15 minutes, put on some music, have a timer at hand, and get ready to lift your spirits. I’m listing some higher- and lower-intensity ways to approach the exercises. Adjust as you go: you should be working hard, but not to exhaustion.
Do as many repetitions as you can with good form in the allotted time. If you tire out before time’s up for any given exercise, rest until it’s time for the next move.
A Fit Fifteen
Minutes 1 and 2: Walk or march in place while pumping your arms, or walk or run up a flight of stairs and back down again.
Minute 3: Push-ups on a wall, countertop, or the floor. Be sure to keep your back flat and your head and neck aligned with your spine.
Minute 4: Sit-to-stand from a chair, or do bodyweight squats, bending your knees and sitting back as you go.
Minute 5: Bird dog. Get on the floor on your hands and knees with your back flat. Extend one arm straight out in front of you, then lift and extend the opposite leg straight back. Keep your lifted arm and leg parallel to the floor, hold 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Minute 6: Bridges. lie on your back with your knees bent. Press your heels down into the floor and raise your hips, slowly lower, and repeat. Or, do single-leg bridges: start as before but extend one leg, so your thighs are parallel, then raise your hips, keeping them level, and slowly lower. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Minute 7: Tricep dips. Sit on the front of a sturdy chair, hands gripping the sides of the seat. Move your hips forward, just off the seat, slowly bend your elbows to lower your body, then push and extend your arms to return to starting position. Repeat.
Minute 8: Hold a forearm plank on a wall, chair, or the floor. Keep your elbows shoulder-width apart, push up and make your body straight from your head to your heels, and draw your belly in to support your lower back. Breathe! You can do one long hold or several short ones to total 60 seconds.
Minutes 9 to 15: Stretching. Forget about the timer for these, just hold each position for 5 deep breaths:
Downward-facing dog. If you haven’t learned this in a yoga class, try a modified version, leaning forward to grip a countertop. Extend your arms, lean forward keeping your back flat, and step back to gently stretch your hamstrings.
Side-body extensions. Stand and reach your right arm overhead with left hand at your hip. Focus on extending long rather than bending to the side.
Back extensions. Lie on your belly with your forehead resting on your hands, or prop yourself up on elbows. If you’re already yoga savvy, continue into a cobra pose, raising your upper body off the floor. Lower and repeat a few times.
If you have any doubts about your ability to exercise, consult your health care provider. Forget no pain, no gain — your quickie workout should feel good.