Healthy Holiday Exercise Ideas
Winter Fun without the Sun
by Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CFNS
Winter is coming, which means your life is about to be a little more chaotic than it already is. Changes in routine along with the gloomy Pacific Northwest weather during the holiday season can often lead to increased levels of sensory overload, anxiety and depression, especially for those on the autism spectrum.
While there might be a tendency to just want to sit on the couch and enjoy holiday goodies, a positive plan to keep you and your family physically active during the holidays helps improve self-regulation and may help in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Here are five ideas to increase your family’s activity level and decrease the stress of the holiday season.
1. Add activity to your holiday traditions – You probably already have an assortment of family traditions that accompany the holiday season. One of my favorite traditions is cruising the neighborhoods to see all of the beautiful Christmas light displays. Whatever your traditions are, try to add an active twist to it. If you’re like me and you enjoy seeing the holiday lights, make a list of the neighborhoods that you want to visit and plan to do some individual or family walks instead of simply driving through. If you have a wearable tracker (like a Fitbit), set a goal for how many steps you aim to reach. This will increase your sense of accomplishment once you are finished.
2. Put an umbrella in the car – Whether we are visiting the grocery store to stock the refrigerator or going to the mall to grab that perfect gift, most people have the tendency to drive around scouring the parking lot for the closest possible open spot. It’s not because we’re lazy, but we all just know that the sun doesn’t like to visit the PNW during the holidays and we want to stay dry! This year put an umbrella in your car and create a new habit by parking away in the farthest spot possible. You will avoid the parking lot pandemonium, get some extra exercise, and stay dry in the process. That’s a win, win, win!
3. Make the TV your workout partner – “Only five more minutes!” Does this sound familiar? A lot of kids look forward to their holiday break because of the increased screen time. I was no different when I was younger and used to see how many seasons of World Series Baseball I could play lounging in my bean bag chair. Replace that bean bag chair with the old exercise bike that you have in the garage. (If you don’t have an exercise bike, they can be found for around $50-$100 on Craigslist.) Add incentive for riding the bike by allotting an extra ten minutes of screen time.
If they aren’t the video game type and instead are glued to watching the TV, join them and use the commercials as exercise time. Do simple bodyweight exercises with them to increase your heart rates. If you live in an apartment complex or have access to a stairway, walk up the stairs ten times each time a commercial break occurs. Often kids are more inclined to do the exercises with you, instead of by themselves.
4. Create an exercise reward system – Incentivize exercise with an exercise sticker chart. Assign different stickers for different activities and have a reward for a certain amount of stickers. Did you walk 30 minutes looking at the Christmas lights? Red sticker. Did you and your child walk farther in the parking lot? Green stickers for both of you. Did you do exercises during the commercials of a 30-minute cartoon? Blue sticker. You can assign the stickers and rewards however you want, but this should be a fun (and visual) way for the family to track their increased activity. Keep it fun and keep each other motivated!
5. Make time for YOU – With all of the chaos that the holidays bring, it can be very easy to forget about yourself. This leads to feeling tired, burnt out, and dreading the holidays next year. Making time for yourself is a MUST. You want to enjoy the holidays, not have them increase your anxiety. Try to take a nightly bubble bath or simply wake up five to ten minutes earlier in the morning to meditate. This will do wonders for your mood and psyche. Plan time to get out of the chaos and take care of yourself.
Ryan Lockard is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training, a personal training company located in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, that specializes in fitness programs for children and adults with special needs. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA) and Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist (ISSA).
photo credit: Mary Rebekah Moore
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Spectrums Magazine.