Why to make exercise a priority during the holidays

Sure you're busy, but scheduling some 'me' time to get in a workout will really pay off


I can pinpoint my favourite time of year to the hour.

It’s around 11:00pm on December 24th. The kids are in bed and (finally) asleep. My wife and I have loaded up the stockings and put the Santa loot under the tree. The stuffing is made and all the requisite groceries and libations are purchased for the next day’s feasting. And the house is actually clean, but that sure isn’t going to last once the festival of unwrapping commences at far too early the next morning.

Nevertheless, that last hour before bed an exhausted wife and I snuggle by the fire and have a drink and say, “Whew. All done.”

Except we’re not really all done. There is still plenty of work and activity planned for the rest of the week.

The holiday season takes a lot out of people; especially parents. There are presents to buy and wrap, food to purchase and prepare, bathrooms and carpets to clean, presents to return and Boxing Day sales to attend… it’s a long list of time-sucking things that make those days off rapidly disappear into a haze of “I can’t believe it’s over so quickly.”

I know you’ve got a lot of people depending on you this holiday season. I’ve got the same responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sacrifice my regular exercise.

Time management boils down to prioritization.

If you can’t slot some time for exercise during the holidays then it means you didn’t place a high enough priority on it. Yes, I realize there are a lot of things on your “to do” list, but if you get creative you can manage to cram in some exercise near the top of that list.

And there are good reasons why you want to make it a high priority, such as:

Exercise decreases stress

I don’t have to tell you it’s a stressful time of year, but you may not know just how good a job exercise does at relieving that stress. A recent study in BioMed Central Public Health determined that for people who were extremely stressed due to work that physical activity was a key component of reducing that stress and getting them back on the job. explains how exercise reduces stress:

  • Increased endorphins: The “feel-good” transmitters in the brain.
  • “Meditation in motion:” You forget about the day’s irritations.
  • Mood improvement: Increases self-confidence, improves sleep and reduces anxiety and depression.

So rather than this being a stressful time of year, it can be as fun as it’s supposed to be by taking a daily break to sweat out some of the pressure. After all, it’s doubtful that anyone will notice that you didn’t iron the napkins this year.

Exercise is a critical component of weight loss and weight maintenance

I’m a pretty hardcore workout warrior and healthy eater, and I still gain a pound or two over the holiday season because it’s the one time of year that I really let my diet go out the window. Seriously, with so much great food (and drink) to enjoy, I just like to live a little. If it wasn’t for me continuing to be active, I could gain twice as much over the holidays. I know this season I’m going to gain a little, and I also know I’ll burn it off in January. The great thing about staying active is that, come the New Year, I have far less holiday poundage to get rid of. There is also the fact that exercise is a proven gateway behavior to healthier eating, so if you keep exercising during the holiday you may be likely to eat better, eat a little less, and imbibe in less alcohol. After all, those winter runs are no fun if you’re nursing a hangover.

You don’t have to worry about falling off the exercise wagon

If you take a week or two off of your exercise routine over the holidays, plus eat and drink to excess, and then wake up on New Year’s day a little heavier, and perhaps a little hung over, it can be kind of depressing. You have this sizeable hill in front of you to climb; you’ve got to get back into exercise and start working on burning off the season’s gluttony. This can feel overwhelming, and some might just say the heck with it, and those added pounds become a permanent addition to your physique. But if you stayed active, and didn’t gain so much weight this season, then the hill is a lot smaller, and you can return to your regular routine feeling like the season wasn’t that stressful after all. So have a happy, healthy, and high-intensity exercising holiday!

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit or email him at