To stay fit during holidays bend, don't break routine: experts
Participants dressed as Santa Claus jog to get ready before the 4th annual Michendorf Santa Run (Michendorfer Nikolauslauf) on December 9, 2012 in Michendorf, Germany. (Sean Gallup, Getty Images)
Tis the season, experts say, to bend your fitness routine so it does not break.
"Consider the holidays a time to maintain fitness, not a time to set new goals or be ambitious," said fitness expert Shirley Archer, author of "Fitness 9 to 5" and "Weight Training for Dummies."
The average American gains one pound (.45 kilograms) each year during the holiday season, Archer said, but it's a fate you can avoid by being active when time allows.
"Research tells us that you can get an effective strength training routine in as little as 15 minutes," she said. "This is not ideal to build strength over time, but is sufficient to keep what you have during the holidays."
A bare-bones cardio workout can be accomplished by fitting short, 10-minute bouts of activity into your holiday plans.
Danielle Hopkins, group fitness manager and instructor at an Equinox fitness center in New York City, tells her concerned clients to try to sweat at least 20 minutes a day.
"I stress the importance of keeping to your routine. The main thing is putting it on your calendar," said Hopkins, who said drinking too much makes it harder to make it to the gym.
"Always make room. It's pretty easy to do. If you're traveling, bring your running shoes, or a jump rope, or look for a gym."
And rest assured that one night of over-indulgence won't derail a year of work.
"Everyone's diet has a bit of wiggle room," she said. "I think it's good to imbibe a little, but be strategic about what you'll allow. Have a little bit."
Constantly avoiding holiday temptation is tiring and in the end unsustainable, according to Gregory Chertok, a sports psychologist with the American College of Sports Medicine.
When navigating holiday stresses, from family to poor food choices, Chertok, who is based in New Jersey, said a simple change in attitude can yield powerful results.
"Embrace challenge rather than avoid temptation," he said. "Avoidance over time can be pretty exhausting. Just like our physical muscles, our mental muscles can get exhausted. Will power requires replenishment."
He said studies show when people try too feverishly to control themselves, their will power wanes.
"There are ways to keep your will power at a strong level, such as staying away from overly restrictive diets, planning the occasional indulgence and eating small frequent meals," he added.
Surrounding oneself with people of similar health and wellness inclinations can also facilitate positive choices.
"We're influenced very powerfully by others' behavior," Chertok said.
He encourages his clients to allow for the occasional slip up. Being self-forgiving and self-compassionate leads to greater success.
"People who set strict goals will self-chastise, self-criticize," he said. "That doesn't allow for high performance or self esteem. As human beings, we take care of ourselves when we feel worthy of self care."
Trainer Tracy Anderson, whose fitness DVDs include "Metamorphosis" and "Mini-Trampoline Workout" stresses consistency.
"The most important thing is to become a consistent exerciser, where you go and have 30 minutes to one hour daily of focused work," she said. "That is the number one best thing we can be doing."
But her advice for people fretting about the holiday season is to feed your soul.
"One time a year is not toxic; in fact, it is the opposite," she said from her New York home.
"It feeds your soul so much that it helps your stress. I say eliminate the word diet from your vocabulary for three days before and after a holiday."
Archer echoes the sentiment and suggests enjoying the pleasures of the seasons.
"All too soon, your routine will return and you can hit your fitness program with renewed commitment and enthusiasm," she added.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andre Grenon)