Believe it or not, you can still get your daily steps and eat (relatively) healthy, even during the holiday season! While travel, family, and celebrations may make it difficult to keep up your daily walking routine, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays can be opportunities to get your 10,000 steps or more. With the right strategy and a few holiday dinner hacks, you can still enjoy your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners (and all the dinners in between), while taking in fewer calories and feeling better after your meals.
Here are 4 walking tips and 4 eating tips to navigate the holiday season while staying as healthy and active as possible. We’ve also included 4 gift ideas for the walker in your life, or treat yourself to a holiday deal. Keep active over the holidays and make it your New Year’s Resolution to continue your step progress rather than having to restart your walking habit from scratch.
Note: If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)!
Four ways to get more steps during the holidays
Plan active family activities
Use the holidays as an opportunity to get your entire family moving with fun activities that just happen to get you active as well. Outdoor activities like ice skating, sledding or even tag, or indoor activities like dancing, basketball or even just doing household chores can get the whole family moving. You’ll have more chances to talk and interact with family members than you would by watching TV or a movie, and you’ll (hopefully) be able to distract your loved ones from holiday shopping on their phones or computers. The key is making your holiday exercise less of a chore and more a side benefit of a fun activity that everyone will enjoy doing.
Plan to walk after eating
Walking after eating can help to regulate your blood sugar and has other beneficial effects. One additional side benefit is that knowing you plan to walk after your holiday dinner (or even the next morning) can help you moderate what you eat. Plan a fun activity with the family either after dinner or the morning after your holiday banquet. It could be waking up early for a morning winter walk or playing some games in a local park. You can still indulge in your favorite foods, but knowing you have an activity planned may help you avoid eating that extra piece of pie that you know will make your stomach hurt the next day.
Use the hotel gym (or hallways)
If you’re staying at a hotel for the holidays, there are a few extra ways you can get active. Most hotels have a tiny gym – not great if you wanted to pump iron but perfect to get some extra steps without having to brave the cold. Make a pledge to get up a bit early and get some steps on the treadmill before you head out. You can use this time to catch up on your favorite shows through a streaming service on your phone.
If your gym doesn’t have a treadmill, or you just don’t like using one, you can use the hotel hallways to get some indoor steps. Try listening to a good audiobook or interesting podcast as you walk to keep yourself company.
Layer up and don’t let the cold stop you
You can still get your steps outside in most winter weather conditions, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other winter holiday. Dress warmly in layers, with a moisture-wicking inner layer in case you start to sweat. Try to have one layer (not your outer jacket) that you can remove if you get too hot during your walk.
A great way to make your winter walk easier is to find a coffee shop or café to take a pit stop and get a hot cup of coffee or tea. If you’re visiting a new place, exploring the area on foot is a great way to get your extra steps in and pass the time. Just make sure to layer up and stay comfortable. Winter walking can be very rewarding and fun, but staying warm should be your #1 goal.
Four eating tips for holiday walkers
Focus on your favorites
Whether you’re eating buffet-style or sitting around the family table, there’s likely to be a ton of tasty options for you to choose from. Of all of those choices, there are probably one or two dishes that you know from the start are your favorites. Build your meal around those options instead of grazing a bit of everything.
If your favorites are high-calorie starchy carbs (like mashed potatoes with marshmallows) or sugary desserts, you can still build a meal around them by choosing healthier options for the rest of your meal. Lean proteins, like turkey, are actually great, healthy choices. Green vegetables, as long as they’re not drenched in butter or oil, are also lower-calorie choices. Fill up on dishes like these, then add in your favorite dishes for a lower-calorie overall meal.
Get up and walk
One way to eat a bit less during a holiday feast is to physically get moving and take yourself away from the food for at least part of the meal. This is easier if you’re eating buffet style, but you can excuse yourself for a minute, or volunteer to help clean or to help watch younger kids. A 5-minute walk can help break up your sitting time, and also give you an energy boost when you may be tired from all that eating. You’ll get some extra steps, which is always a plus, and also you’ll have less temptation to grab something. Taking breaks also gives your stomach time to let your brain know that it’s actually full.
Minimize alcohol (and liquid calories)
We know that many people like to drink a bit over the holidays, but limiting alcohol (and other liquid calories) is one of the best ways to lower the calories of your meals. Pure alcohol is about 7 calories per gram (more calories than carbs/protein, a bit less than fat), and most alcoholic drinks have added carbs as well. Drinking alcohol also makes it harder to make good choices during your holiday meal. If you do decide to drink, drink plenty of water as well. Water will help to quench your thirst and keep your stomach full, which may naturally help you drink less alcohol overall.
Sodas, juices, and other sugary beverages are packed with empty calories. Swap out your sodas or juices with water, tea, or other no-calorie beverages. Non-alcoholic eggnog or other holiday drinks are still packed with calories, so try to avoid these and focus on your holiday favorite dishes. Try a hot cup of holiday tea instead. You can use cinnamon sticks or apple slices to add some sweetness and flavor.
Use smaller plates
We tend to finish what’s on our plates, and the simple act of using smaller plates helps people to eat less. There have actually been studies done on the effect of using smaller plates. Some indicate that smaller plates may help people eat less, while others show no effect. Even if smaller plates don’t “trick” us into eating less, using a smaller plate forces you to choose smaller portions (which are often the correct portion sizes). It can also help you make conscious choices about what you want to put on it. You can build on the small plate effect by making sure you drink a glass of water before you fill up your plate again, or giving yourself a short 5-10 minute break before loading up again. This gives your brain more time to receive signals from your stomach that it’s full, and can help you avoid overeating without even realizing it.
Four holiday gifts for the walker in your life
For yourself: Walking shoes are the number one piece of gear for a serious walker. They can be tough to give as a gift, as you’d probably need to go with your loved one to ensure a good fit. You can use Black Friday or after Christmas sales to pick up a discounted pair walking shoes for yourself, though! You’ll often find great sales on last year’s models, which work perfectly well. Walking shoe technology doesn’t change much in a single year, so there’s often little to no difference between one year and the next except for the price and styling.
For a loved one: Consider taking a loved one to get fitted for walking shoes as a gift. This ensures that they’ll find a fit and style that works for them. While it’s not necessarily a surprise, you can share your love of walking and connect with your loved one at the same time.
Socks & insoles
Walking socks or insoles are easier to give as gifts, as they can often fit many foot and shoe sizes. While many people get by with cheap socks, you can find extremely warm, sweat-wicking walking socks that actually have a fair amount of advanced sock technology (to the extent that sock technology can be advanced). Walking socks can be a great stocking stuffer or add-on as part of a gift bundle.
Insoles are a good way to extend the life of a pair of walking shoes, while adding additional cushioning for the feet. Good insoles can help prevent foot pain, but if giving as a gift try to avoid specialized insoles for arch or heel problems unless you know for a fact the recipient has those issues.
If you or a loved one are into Nordic walking, walking poles make a great gift. There is a huge variety of walking poles – from inexpensive basic models to poles with advanced materials that cost hundreds of dollars. For those new to walking with poles, any decent model should do. Experienced pole-walkers may want a specific kind of pole, so you may need to ask first before selecting the model for them.
Something to listen to
A good pair of headphones is the perfect gift for a serious walker, as many people enjoy listening to audio content or music while they walk. A pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones that stay snug on your head while walking can make any walk more enjoyable.
You can also give the gift of audio content for your favorite walker. A gift subscription to an audio content provider, like our friends at Audible, can give hours of enjoyment to the walker in your life. For an extended 2-month free trial of Audible (with 6 free Audible titles), visit our link at www.audible.com/pacer (offer only available to new Audible customers in the US. Terms and conditions apply).
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.