Article by Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
The holidays can often be a stressful time, but sticking with your exercise schedule or taking movement breaks will reduce stress during the holidays and all year long. Despite the extra time it takes out of the busy holiday schedule, finding time to continue or even start an exercise routine could be the gift you give to yourself that keeps giving. Moving more helps to reduce stress and even though time is short and there is a lot to be done, taking a walk, or doing a yoga class could leave you more focused and ready to tackle the long-to-do list that comes with the holidays.
The minimum recommendation for adult physical activity is 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week and two days that include strength training. Before starting any new exercise routine, it is important to consult with a doctor. Regular movement has been shown to decrease the likelihood of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease while also supporting better overall health. If you currently have a chronic disease, beginning an exercise routine could improve your chronic disease numbers. Additionally, physical activity supports better sleep quality, increased energy, and improved mood.
While exercise may not totally get rid of all holiday stress it could mitigate the severity of it. When our bodies become stressed it releases the adrenaline hormone which can cause an increase in heart rate and or breathing. It can also cause your blood pressure to rise. Continuous stress can become chronic and cause your body to stay in a constant state of high stress. This regular stress is not healthy and can cause the body to have physical reactions such as a weak immune system, stomach problems or chronic headaches. Having stress in your life during the holidays or regularly does not mean you are destined to deal with headaches but taking measures to reduce chronic stress or even short-term stress is key to feeling better all the time.
Engaging in physical activity is a good way to release stress and make you feel more relaxed, have clearer thoughts and be more in control of your health. You may feel too tired to lace up your sneakers and head out for a walk after a long day of holiday prepping but taking 30 minutes a day to move can calm you down and decrease stress levels. If you find you are constantly losing your train of thought or can’t clearly focus on tasks at hand, dancing for 30 minutes a day could give you the clarity you need to get everything done for the holidays. Despite feeling too tired to exercise it could actually give you more energy to keep moving, taking time out to do a 30-minute yoga class could give you that last burst of energy needed to finish tasks. If you are tossing and turning at night when you should be sleeping, try to find time the next day to add in some physical activity because exercise has been shown to increase the quality and quantity of sleep. Going for a 30-minute bike ride each day could contribute you a better night sleep so that tasks aren’t so daunting the next day. During the holiday season people increase their calorie intake at parties and events and moving more and sitting less burns calories and prevents added weight gain. Additionally, exercise can assist with appetite control so that you can avoid overeating high calorie holiday foods. There are so many good reasons to move during the holidays and setting time aside to move will make you feel better, focus better and enjoy the holidays.