We all want to look and feel our best and stay healthy, vibrant and full of energy but it can be hard when our days are packed full and we are under stress trying to get everything done. There may be little time to work out or we may be thrown off of our daily eating habits by changes in routine. Then when we are not at our best, we are confronted with temptations at gatherings, given food gifts by family and friends, or find ourselves eating out more than we normally do.

As we count down to 2014, there is often so much is packed into the remaining weeks of the year. This makes it even harder to stay on track if you are trying to lose weight or simply hoping to maintain your current weight through the holiday season.

Even if weight is not a concern, it can be a challenge to eat healthy and maintain high energy levels and to avoid feeling tired or run down and vulnerable to seasonal colds and flus at this time of year. So in this newsletter, I want to share a few of my own strategies for surviving holiday stress and avoiding excess weight gain along with my favorite fat-blasting express workout. Let’s get right to that and then we’ll tackle the holiday strategies.

In last week’s newsletter, we learned about the three different kinds of exercise and why they are all important to your health. (We also talked about something you can do to get the benefit of a workout even if you can’t work out.) While a healthy fit body needs cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility training, the research shows that if time is tight or push comes to shove as they say, and you can only do one, the biggest impact can be gained through cardiovascular exercise.

Going one step further, the biggest impact to be gained if you are going to do cardiovascular exercise is through a form of exercise known as high intensity interval training, during which small bouts of work are so intense that they leave you breathless or out of air. When this happens, the body cannot get the energy it requires from oxygen and so to keep working, it must find energy elsewhere and so it goes into the fat stores in order to generate what it needs.

Many studies have shown that shorter amounts of high intensity work can yield results similar to longer more sustained exercise efforts. So when you don’t have time for an hour class or a good long run, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for half the workout benefit; you can create a 30 minute workout that does as much or more as your hour long routine.

If you have 30 minutes, start by warming up with dynamic movements. These are motions that are fluid and get the muscles to move, the best way to loosen muscles and prepare for work. For example, if you are going to run or power walk, warming up by walking gently or lightly jogging is better than doing a stretch where you hold your muscle in one position.

High knees (lifting your knees up and down in an exaggerated marching motion), going onto your toes and then rolling back onto your heels and back again or other such movements would also be appropriate. Sitting or lying down in a stretch or grabbing your foot with your hand while standing, for example, are not the best means of warming up the muscles: save that for after your workout as a cool down.

Once you are warm and ready to work, the goal of this super intense fat and calorie blasting workout is to work as hard as you can for one minute, hopefully squeezing all your air out of your lungs until you are out of breath. (You don’t need to go the whole minute; if you run out of air at 42 seconds or 53 seconds, you are done!) But continue until you lose your air or you have pushed as hard as you can for 60 seconds and then go into recovery mode and focus on deep breaths and water for 2 minutes. Repeat nine more times until you have done a set of ten: one minute of intense effort followed by two minutes of recovery for each one.

Even though you will only be working 10 minutes of the 30, research shows that this super intense workout will blast fat (assuming you are able to get to the point of breathlessness) and calories and give you comparable benefits to a longer workout at a more sustained lower intensity pace. But don’t kid yourself: this is a very intense, very difficult workout! And it is only meant for those already active and engaged in a fitness regime. (Check with your doctor to be sure.)

The challenge – and it is a big challenge — is to push yourself hard 10 times in a row, so if you are the type that likes/needs someone pushing you, pair up with a friend or ask someone to talk you through and “coach” you while you take it on. You can work out side by side even if you are on different machines or doing a different exercise and swap one-minute intervals pushing each other.

The good news is that you can do this on a treadmill, a stationary bike, an elliptical machine, a rowing machine or most any piece of gym equipment you have at home or find at a gym. You can also do it in a pool, dancing in your living room, or outside doing your favorite exercise if it’s not too cold where you live.

If you are not fit or experienced enough to take this work out on, or if you are pressed for time and only have 20 minutes, you can modify this to a slightly easier but still powerful workout by reducing the intervals to 30 seconds and following each burst with 90 seconds of recovery. A set of 10 will take you 20 minutes and still yield great rewards. It’s the intensity of the intervals that matters: they have to be all out, hard and at least some of them have to be breathless. (The more the better!)

As you do it more and more, (you can do this once a week when you are pressed on time, or make it your regular routine and do it 2-3 times a week in place of your traditional workout), you will be able to reduce the recovery time in between each push and either squeeze in a few more intervals or get your workout done a few minutes sooner. If you only have 10 minutes, do 5 intense intervals and you’ll still receive the benefits of a much longer workout: something is always better than nothing and in this case, ten minutes really gets you a lot.

If you only have 5 minutes, don’t let that be an excuse for not working out. Do a series of 8 intervals of 20 seconds each, with 10 seconds in between. It will be super hard, but it will boost your metabolism, burn calories during (and long after you work), reduce stress and give you energy. Five minutes is all it takes!

That’s tip number one for managing weight and staying healthy and full of energy this holiday season: try to squeeze a workout in, even if you are short on time. In addition to burning calories and fat, you will feel so much better, have more energy, less stress and you will boost your metabolism (and your immune system) to help compensate for any less healthy eating choices.

Now let’s focus on a few more strategies for surviving holiday celebrations. The first is something that may seem obvious but we often fail to do and that is to eat before the party. You don’t have to have a full meal, but never arrive at a gathering hungry!

Often when we know we are going to a party and that we will be tempted, we eat less during the day, thinking that by eating less we have balanced out the extra calories we’ll take in later. But actually, you will eat much more at the party because you’ll arrive hungry and all of your senses will be stimulated by the goodies; before you know it, you’ll have consumed much more than you planned.

So eat a good lunch and/or have a late afternoon snack. One woman in my indoor cycling class shared that she has a bowl of oatmeal before she goes out. Filling and satisfying, she’ll be less tempted by junk food and can then pick and choose a few indulgences that she’ll really enjoy.

Drink water before you leave and make a plan that every time you have a drink that is not water, you also get a glass of water too. Drink the water first before you enjoy your cocktail.

Don’t let anyone guilt you into eating, whether it’s because they really want you to try their dip or because they want to sabotage your eating along with theirs. Be gracious, but say you had a late lunch or smile and say you are resting in between rounds. Make your own decisions about what and when to eat.

Consider bringing a healthy treat to the party so at least you know there will be one thing there you can nosh on without guilt. (I find it’s better not to ask first: just bring it! But be kind to the host/hostess and make sure it’s plated appropriately and is ready to serve so that it causes no troubles.) Veggies and hummus, guacamole and pita crisps are good examples.

It probably needs to saying that veggies are a great party option but you need to be careful of the dips that often contain excess calories and chemicals. Think Italian when it comes to toppings: red is better than white and avoid creamy dips and dressings.

Look for protein such as shrimp, salmon or chicken to fill you up and balance out the carbs you’re taking in through food and drink.

Choose a few treats that you will really truly enjoy and enlist a friend, co-worker or your partner to help you help you pass on the rest, especially if they are being passed. It’s so easy to take one of everything that goes by: make sure it’s something you’ll really enjoy and savor and if not, decline. Consider deciding to only take one plate from the food station and choose wisely.

If possible, decide in advance on what you will splurge on and what you will pass on. Everyone has a favorite party food: allow yourself to indulge in a bit of that but pass on the other stuff. If you know in advance what that food is, you can use a trick that researchers discovered resulted in significantly less indulging: visualize yourself eating it before the party.

It may sound strange, but a study divided participants into two groups. One group was asked to visualize themselves slowly eating a popular candy. They were to take their time and imagine eating the candy one at a time until they had eaten 30+ candies. The other group did nothing.

When the researchers brought them into the room all together, they put bowls of the candy on the table and monitored the consumption of them. They found the group that visualized eating them prior ate significantly less than the other group. The brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is perceived, so the brain felt it had already had candy and really didn’t need any more.

So before you head out or while you’re in the car, imagine eating chips and dip or whatever it is and use all your senses to enjoy the experience. The study didn’t say why it had to be 30 something or if there is a minimum number of repetitions that is necessary, so just repeat it over and over again, at least a couple dozen times and see what happens! I tried it recently and it worked! I imagined eating my favorite indulgence slowly, savoring it for a couple minutes on my way to a gathering and when I saw it there when I arrived, I was not tempted by it.

The strategies I’ve shared are simple and easy and you probably already knew them: there are no magic bullets. It’s really about choosing the ones that will work best for you and seem the most manageable and then deciding to use them and following through.

Lastly, if you do go overboard and overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it: let it go! Often times we feel like we already blew it so why not just keep going and deal with it in January. But tomorrow is a new day and one bad day does not a whole season make! If you are the type that has trouble letting yourself off the hook, then give yourself a “punishment” to serve. For example, 15 minutes on the treadmill or a fast walk outside when you get up the next morning and then let it go.

Every little bit helps and each small decision makes a difference. Take as many little positive steps as you can: try to get a workout in, drink more water, get some extra sleep, take whole food multivitamin supplements, and do your best to take care of yourself each and every day, during the holidays and beyond. Little choices will lead to big results over time.

To your wellness and health:  your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

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