Running to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

How to Use Running to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

By: Paige Smith

The holidays are hectic and you might be tempted to ditch your running routine when confronted with a full calendar and seemingly endless opportunities to indulge.

Running, however, is a great way to stay in control of your health during the holidays. Pounding the pavement can help you combat weight gain, maintain your fitness, and preserve your sanity amidst the chaos.

Use these eight tips to take care of yourself this season.

1. Schedule workouts around holiday plans

Between work, social obligations, gift shopping, and traveling, it's tricky to maintain your normal running regimen around the holidays. Scheduling runs ahead of time can help.

“For example," says Laura Norris, a Road Runners Club of America run coach, “if you know one day will be an early morning flight, plan to run the day before and day after and make your travel day a rest day."

Creating a weekly plan keeps you accountable, she says, and eliminates the hassle of making workout decisions each day.

2. Fuel up for running first

It's easy to overindulge during the holidays. Fueling yourself for exercise — instead of just eating to satisfy your hunger — can help you prioritize nutrient-rich foods.

"Nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains will keep you full, "says Norris, "and provide you with the energy to maintain your running routine."

Filling up on these foods first means you're less likely to tear through a bag of cookies at night or order a pastry for breakfast. That doesn't mean you have to feel guilty for enjoying the occasional treat, though.

"If you do indulge one day," says Jennifer Glockner, a registered dietitian nutritionist, "just get back to your regular, healthy eating pattern the next meal."

3. Maximize your runs

To make the most of your training during the holidays, focus on the quality of your runs instead of the quantity.

"High-intensity intervals deliver the most effective workout," says Norris, "both in terms of burning calories and in improving fitness, for a short time window."

A fartlek (Swedish for "speed play") run is an excellent choice, Norris says, since you can do it anywhere — from trails to treadmills.

"Fartleks are based off of effort, not pace," she says, "which is beneficial for the holidays when you may be tired from parties or travel."

A good Fartlek workout, Norris says, could include a 5-10 minute warm up, 10 sets of 1 minute of hard running followed by 1 minute of easy running, and a 5-10 minute cool-down to finish. Aim to alternate interval workouts with runs at an easy effort, Norris says, so you have time to recover properly.

4. Make healthy swaps when cooking

Cooking at home makes it easier to improve the nutritional value of your food and control the calorie count.

"Even changing one ingredient can make a difference," says Glockner.

Some of her go-to healthy substitutions include: using herbs and spices instead of table salt to season your food, swapping refined white bread for whole wheat bread, choosing a vinaigrette instead of a creamy salad dressing, or replacing half the butter or oil in a baking recipe with unsweetened applesauce or avocado.

Another smart strategy is to roast, grill, broil, or steam instead of frying, she says, since frying ramps up the fat content of your food.

5. Do strength exercises

Incorporating strength exercises into your running routine is a good way to burn calories and build muscle. Bodyweight moves are the best during the holidays, Norris says, since they're effective and don't require equipment or access to a gym. She recommends plyometrics, like box jumps or side hops, core work, squats, and push-ups.

If you're pressed for time, don't worry about scheduling strength training as its own workout . "You can squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes of bodyweight strength exercises immediately after a run," Norris says.

6. Stay hydrated

Good hydration allows you to run harder and longer, but drinking enough water can also help you make smarter food choices during the holiday season. That's because many people confuse thirst for hunger, says Glockner. Drinking water throughout the day, however, can help prevent snacking on unhealthy foods or overeating at mealtimes.

It's also a good idea to drink more water in lieu of holiday beverages like eggnog, hot chocolate, or cocktails, says Glockner; these concoctions, while fine in moderation, are typically high in calories and sugar content.

7. Be strategic before and during parties

Try not to skip meals during the day or attend a party on an empty stomach. "If you're hungry," says Glockner, "it's harder to resist temptations and make smart choices."

To avoid a state of hunger or "hanger," focus on eating fiber-rich foods throughout the day (like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit). Eating fiber can help increase satiety and regulate your blood sugar, Glockner says, which, in turn, helps your appetite.

Then, when you do arrive at a party, office event, or other holiday gathering, make sure you scan your options before you grab a plate. Try to limit refined carbs like white bread and white rice, Glockner says, and load up instead on lean proteins, vegtables, and whole grains. Afterward, go ahead and choose smaller servings of your favorite holiday treats.

8. Treat your running as self-care

If you notice your motivation flagging, remember that the benefits of running go beyond physical health.

"For many people," Norris says, "running serves as a stress release."

You may find it touch to maintain your pre-holiday pace or log the same mileage as usual, but at the very least, a run can help boost your mood and clear your head.

"Chances are," Norris says, "you will feel better after even 30 minutes."