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Five fitness hacks for healthier holidays

For many of us, mid-November through New Year's is a busy and stressful time of year. Between shopping for gifts, attending holiday gatherings and everyday responsibilities, a regular fitness routine can quickly fall off your list. Yet, exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, especially during the holidays. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, fight off illness, improve sleep quality, reduce stress, boost self-esteem, reduce seasonal effects of winter and give you the energy to make it through the holiday season.

With so many competing priorities, here are a few fitness hacks you can use to keep a regular fitness routine as a priority on your list.

1. Schedule exercise dates with yourself (or a friend). The best time to work out is whatever works with your schedule. Look ahead at your weekly calendar and schedule time to exercise. Some days you might only have time for a solo sweat session at home, while other days may offer you enough time for a fitness class with your bestie. Sharing a workout with a loved one is a great way to spend time together. When scheduling your exercise dates, remember that many fitness clubs offer child care during your workout and there are YouTube videos and smartphone apps that can challenge you at home. 

2. Find ways to squeeze exercise into your everyday activities. There are going to be days when you just won't be able to schedule in a workout, and that is OK. Look for ways to include exercise elements into your regular daily activities. While out shopping, squeeze in some extra steps by parking farther from the entrance and by walking the perimeter of the store first. At work, use part of your lunch, coffee or bathroom break to take a quick walk. Not all exercise has to be high-intensity, movement is the key. 

3. Save time with high-intensity exercise. Adding various intensities to your favorite workouts can bring new health benefits, challenges and motivation to your everyday workout. Combining intervals of maximum intensity exercise, followed by longer intervals of low- to moderate-intensity exercise can actually help you burn more fat and calories in less time. This specialized training is also known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. An example of an HIIT workout may include alternating between sprinting for one minute followed by two minutes of walking for 20 minutes. The great thing about HIIT is that you can incorporate it into your current preferred exercise: running, cycling, walking, swimming or strength training. 

4. Try new activities that include your entire family. During these cold, dark days, you may find yourself uninspired to try a new activity. However, the winter is a great time to involve the entire family in new sports like ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing and fat tire biking. Your local parks and recreation website is a great place to find trails, slopes, rinks and equipment rentals for these winter activities. Taking a break from holiday preparations with a family activity is a great way to reenergize yourself and being outdoors can help you beat the winter blues. 

5. Wear a fitness tracker or pedometer. This can be an easy way to record not only structured exercise, but all the movement you do in a day. Once you see how much or how little activity you get during the day (your baseline), you can set goals for more activity and use your fitness tracker to measure your success and increase endurance.

Don't be too hard on yourself if you need to take a day off from your fitness routine. Try not to let it become an excuse to not workout. Don't let the 15 minutes you have go to waste just because you can't fit in your regular 30-minute walk. Every activity has health benefits that just may help you have a happier and less stressful holiday season.

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