10 gym-free ways to exercise and get fit

Whether it's going tobogganing, or shoveling the driveway, find the secret places workouts are hiding this winter

Woman pulling a tobaggan sled up a hill

Photo: Getty Images

My friend Paul Plakas, whose show X-Weighted focuses on healthy weight loss, is doing a “get ripped over Christmas” event. I remember seeing him talk about it on Facebook and wondering, How is that even possible? Then I started thinking it was time for me to get it back in gear too.

See, I just handed a book into a publisher, and it’s ironic that the long hours associated with meeting a deadline on a weight loss book would cause me to gain weight. Many 70-plus hour weeks meant skipped workouts and bad food. But now that the book has been submitted, it’s time to ditch the flab, holiday season or not.

For the average person, it can be a major accomplishment to simply not gain weight over the holidays. There’s all the awesome food, but there is all the extra panic of shopping/cooking/cleaning/decorating/wrapping/partying and this can make sticking to a traditional exercise routine problematic — so lets work with what we’ve got.

You can get my tips to keeping food and alcohol intake down over the holidays here, and below are my gym-free ways to get in extra activity over the break:

1. Just take a walk
Walking is the number one form of exercise on the planet. More people use it for fitness than anything else and it imparts excellent health benefits. They don’t have to be long or arduous or even planned out. If you can squeeze in three 10-minute walks during the day this is just as good as one 30-minute walk. It all adds up the same.

2. Do the stairs
Whether at home or work, take a break from the panic of getting ready for the holidays and do a few flights of stairs — or ditch the elevator all together and strictly use them for a few weeks. They can be fast or slow, and the number of flights is up to you. This requires zero prep. The only thing needed is the will to take five minutes and do it, which isn’t even enough to make you need a shower. Do this a few times a day and you’ll be gaining cardiovascular fitness along with toning your legs and butt without adding any real effort to your schedule.

3. TV time just became yoga time
At the end of a busy day we like to collapse in front of the TV to unwind. Unfortunately, because we’re conditioned to be busy all day, this often leads to eating. We feel like we should be doing something at all times and eating is doing something. Have a yoga mat next to the couch and do some stretches/poses/Pilates while watching your favourite show. It will take your mind off of food and help burn, instead of pack on, extra calories as well.

4. Go tobogganing
This one requires some time commitment away from the busy schedule, but it’s important to remember that the holidays are about spending time with the family, and if you have children who enjoy the toboggan hill, then you get to mix family fun with fitness. Climbing up that hill again and again is a great workout for your lower body and abs — all that laughter never hurt anyone either!

5. Do a short video
It may seem like you don’t have 30-45 minutes to do one of your workout videos, but what about three to five minutes? Yale obesity researcher Dr. David Katz has a series of videos on his site called “Activity Bursts Everywhere.” Here are the ones you can try at home.

6. Dance like no one’s watching…even if they are
If you’re busy and feeling overwhelmed, cranking up your favourite song and shaking your booty is a good way to move and recharge your brain. Whether you’re at a New Years party, family gathering or home alone, dancing around is a quick way to build up a nice, workout glow. Note: It doesn’t have to be Christmas music.

7. Stop sitting down
Whatever the activity, if its wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards or something else, if you can do it standing, then do it. The less time spent sitting, the better.

8. Park further away
This is a tried and true tool for getting an extra workout, especially if you have to carry some heavy bags. You’ll be shopping for a lot of presents and groceries, and you can actually save time by not trying to find that close-in spot, and be near the edge of the lot to make for a quicker escape from the chaos.

9. Move some snow around
Instead of watching your kids from the warmth of your home, or paying someone to clear your driveway, why not get out there and join them? This can mean shoveling your neighbour’s sidewalk in addition to your own, helping kids build a fort, or getting into a snowball fight. Note, shoveling snow is a great workout for the whole body but be mindful of any back strain. Engaging your abs is a fantastic way to properly support the back.

10. Clean the house
Before anyone reaches for torches and pitchforks, let me tell my own story. The day I handed in the book I looked around at the catastrophe my house had become. Because I work from home the housework is mostly my duty, and I spent five hours cleaning and scrubbing just about everything in sight. I was so wiped at the end of it I decided that I really didn’t need to go for a run that evening. Plus, I got a clean house out of the deal (and a happy wife).

The important thing to remember is that these fitness sessions don’t need to be long or intense, but merely frequent. Consider printing list article off and sticking it to the fridge as a constant reminder to get just a little activity here and there, because it adds up faster than you think.

Toronto-based fitness expert and personal trainer Brent Bishop puts a few holiday treats into prespective when it comes to holiday treats this season:

Two glasses of wine = 500 burpies
Canapes and cocktails = 700 jump squats
One serving of turkey = 40 minutes skipping at a steady pace (jump rope)
Turkey dinner (turkey with gravy, cranberries, mash potatoes) = 1.25 hours skipping at a steady pace
Three small chocolates = 30min of fast jumping jacks

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.


Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.