Fitness and the holidays: Do you stick to your routine, take time off, or do something else entirely?

Over the top scary click baity headlines and the holidays go hand in hand. Here’s today’s Being a couch potato for just two weeks can cause weight gain and muscle loss: new research.

Headline aside, there’s an interesting worry here raised for midlife and beyond athletes.

Short version: “New research to be presented next week at the Physiological Society’s conference in Liverpool, England, indicates taking just a short break from physical activity could be a recipe for disaster, particularly for older adults. Researchers studied 26 young adults between 20-35 years old and 21 older adults between 54-66 years old. After two weeks of reduced physical activity (around 1500 steps per day), researchers found the older adults had lost significant amounts of muscle and had gained a substantial percentage of body fat – particularly around their waist. The lack of physical activity also reduced bone density, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis and breaking bones from falls.”

Grim news. But also, of people who are already active, who takes two weeks off completely at the holidays? For me, for some of the time, having a more relaxed work schedule gives me more time to do fitness-y things. I might take off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and Boxing Day but that’s about it.

I decided to poll the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog team to see what approach they take. Cate, you all know about, since she’s off taking 35k steps a day in Hong Kong and then biking in Cambodia. I think we can safely say she has nothing to worry about in the holiday fitness department.

What about the rest of the gang?

Nicole: “I usually keep my regular schedule, but also mentally tell myself that whatever I do is great. Meaning, if I go to a class, I am not trying to out do myself, or set a PR, this time of year. Just being there and moving is a win this time of year (since like most people, I feel more tired than usual). Also, I have a tradition of going for a light jog on Christmas morning. It’s usually perfect weather for this time of year and very peaceful out early Christmas morning. One of my favourite things to do.  I think the real risk of a prolonged break, is breaking the habit of exercise. For people who exercise regularly and have for awhile, I don’t think this is a big risk. More for newbies trying to establish a habit. I am sure if people, no matter their age, resume their usual workouts after a short holiday break, they will recover from any potential losses fairly quickly.”

Marjorie: “Whether or not I take a “fitness break” depends upon if I’m traveling or not and what kind of travel I’m doing. If I’m at home, I keep doing my usual routine. For travel, usually we are on foot for hours at a time, wandering some new town, and then I would hardly call it a “fitness break,” it’s just a different type of activity. (The record for steps in a day was San Francisco at about 30,000 until our honeymoon in Italy, where we walked over 40,000 in Venice.) A place like Las Vegas where I might walk less, I don’t mind scheduling in some gym time into my day and making do with whatever they provide at the hotel. It’s not the same as what I’d do at home, but it’s something, and it provides a much-needed break from the crowds. “

Susan: “I think the “panic” around losing ground as if it some sort of loss of days of life is silly. Pleasure and rest are important as much as movement is important. I like to try to remember to keep moving, whether it’s dog walks or at home yoga but that is the same for every time of the year. If I don’t move my body complains in ways that are owie. Whatever I “lose” is gained back once I start training again. Since I am not a competitive athlete, the fact it takes time doesn’t bother me one schmick. I’m basically just happy to be here and upright and mobile. Although I am standing on one leg whenever I think of it because my hip stabilizers are really unhappy. That can be done while eating a cookie.”

Me: “I don’t really take time off fitness pursuits though what I do might change. I often do active things with my kids. I used to go for a Christmas Day run every year with my athletic son. I can’t run anymore but as a family we might go snow tubing or ice skating. We’ve also had warm years where we rode bikes on Christmas Day. No matter what else there are dog walks. The various gyms I’ve gone to have only closed for a day or two and so that doesn’t even count as a break. Some years I’ve made a specific point of working out every day the week after Christmas.”

Kim: “I enjoy doing exercise-y things along with holiday things. I suspect I’m addicted to the endorphins. I like a good swim, walking, stair climbing outside. I want it to feel both exertive and festive. Being out in the cold air and active feels great, so I do it”

Christine: ” I often amp things up a little over the holidays. During the time just before and just after Christmas, my time is a bit more my own and it is easier for me to be consistent with my exercise. I have more long stretches of time to spend walking or doing yoga or whatever. I agree that taking a break is not going to ruin your progress and that you will get back in the routine quickly after the holidays.

I think the key is to make a DECISION to take a break and make a plan for when you will get back to your routine. If you just kind of fall out of the habit, it will be harder to get started again. Making a choice to take an exercise vacation is a deliberate thing.

And, if people new to exercise do want to keep or establish a routine of some sort over the holidays, it’s usually a good idea to pick some definite times and specific activities rather than waiting to ‘feel like’ exercising.”

For a more reassuring point of view here’s Selene Yeager.

How about you? Do you take time off fitness over the holidays?

A group of people jumping in the air above the snow. Photo by Unsplash.

5 thoughts on “Fitness and the holidays: Do you stick to your routine, take time off, or do something else entirely?

  1. Just one statistically insignificant observation: I am older than the older group in that study – 68 – and am very, very active. But earlier this fall I had a cold that lingered in a way I have never experienced before, so I missed all the intensity and much of the time I usually work out for at least three weeks. And sure, I had to work a bit harder to get back to where I had been, especially in strength training. But it took about two sessions of anything I usually do to get back to where I was before the cold. So I guess I come away from that never-sit-still-or you’re-in-trouble study (ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration) with a variety of issues : 1) don’t tell us to panic if we need to rest for some real reason – illness, fatigue from travel, whatever; 2) look at what it might take to recover from any losses (for me they were definitely short term losses) rather than suggesting the strength is gone forever; 3) see it in a longer term perspective: I don’t doubt that it is easier as I age to lose something I cannot regain. I mean, we all recognize that 5k times at age 90 are slower than at age 20! But rather, design studies to display the health benefits of regular activity, and of getting back to it if life has taken you off your activity path for a bit.

    Sigh, I guess it’s those alarmist conclusions that make the headlines. Thanks to all of you for setting them straight (it’s too bad you are called upon so frequently to do it)!

  2. I somehow missed the poll, so I’m answering the question here–I don’t take a fitness break over the holidays. I’m with Kim, I love the endorphins and they are an extra pleasure at the holidays. Especially this year, because I’m in the CA mountains, so I can cross country ski. Yay! I agree generally with everyone’s feeling that intentionality around break or no break seems more relevant than whether or not we take a break. And I intend to enjoy the snow.Happy Holidays!

  3. Normally I ramp up a bit over the holidays because there is more time to get to the circus studio and I enjoy it a lot. This year I’m under post-surgery orders to rest and am following that. It is taking effort to focus on the fact that my body is still healing and try not to stress about the inevitable strength loss. I try to remember that training is meant to be a process of building/strengthening but also of rest/repairing. I realize that I’m very fortunate to have this mandatory rest/repair season happen across holiday time.

  4. My gym classes (Strong Life Program at a powerlifting gym) are not run during the holidays so the coaches can have a break though we do have sessions scheduled and can head in to do them if we want. However for the second year in a row I am moving house. I hired removalists to move my furniture. But absolutely everything else I am doing myself. So my Christmas fitness regimen is carrying my worldly possessions 15-30kg at a time; apartment to elevator, elevator to car, car to porch, porch up a flight of stairs to new apartment.
    Functional fitness if there ever was and a fantastic sense of accomplishment.

  5. I’ll miss one workout on Christmas day (gym closed) but will walk since we have no snow and it’s way above freezing. Otherwise I’d get out the x-country skis or snowshoes. My routine is gym for HIIT 3x a week and yoga /walking on my own so won’t be a big change.

Comments are closed.