You know how it goes during the holidays: Your fitness habits tend to take a back seat to lots of meals, parties, and laughter—and it happens to the best of us. “Even someone with great discipline (like myself!) will probably eat and drink too much,” says celebrity trainer Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Lift to Get Lean. “It’s something to expect this time of year—so the easiest way to reach your weight loss goals and stay on track during the holiday season is to shift your perspective. Instead of focusing on cutting calories, enjoy the holidays and try to boost your calorie burn to account for whatever you’re taking in,” she says.
According to Perkins, it’s important to be realistic when it comes to weight loss, to avoid getting discouraged—which can be demotivating and actually bump you further off track. “You won’t eat like you’re at a party every day come January 1, so it’s OK to simply focus on maintaining your weight during the holidays,” Perkins suggests. And one of the best ways to do it? Walking.
“Walking is nearly tailor-made for the holidays, because you can get your steps in anywhere, and even turn it into a social exercise or family event,” Perkins says. “It’s also easy to squeeze short sessions into a busy schedule. The key is to power up your walks, to account for your increased calorie intake.”
Here are five ways to make your steps count, so you can walk your way toward weight loss. An added bonus? Once the parties are over, you’ll have created new habits, and your bumped-up calorie burn will continue into the New Year.
Adjust Your Goal
Reaching your daily step goal should feel motivating—after all, you did it! But if your holiday schedule is too cramped, it’s OK to lower your step goal and increase your intensity, says Perkins. Short bouts of high-intensity exercise have been shown to burn just as many calories as slower variations performed over longer periods of time.
Walk After a Meal
“Get your steps in whenever you can, and if that’s first thing in the morning, go for it!” says Perkins. “But if you have the option to walk within two hours of a meal, that’s your best bet, since exercise helps your body process glucose. All those potatoes, crackers, cocktails, and pies—your carb load is often higher during the holidays, and walking after eating can potentially help you metabolize these items faster.”
Rev Your Heart Rate
When you walk, try to push your heart rate to about 50% more than your resting heart rate to make sure you’re working hard enough, Perkins says. You can check to see if your heart rate is elevated with a Fitbit heart-rate enabled tracker, like the Fitbit Charge 2, Blaze, and Surge, or take your pulse for 30 seconds before walking, and then check it every 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the duration of your walk.
To increase your step intensity, look for hills: You’ll recruit your glutes and hamstrings—large muscle groups which burn more calories—more than usual to handle the extra challenge. You can also walk faster, or even perform intervals: Alternate walking fast for two minutes with one minute at your usual pace.
Turn Your Walk into a Workout
“Holidays are supposed to be fun, and walks are no exception,” Perkins says. “Get creative when looking for ways to boost intensity. Find a park bench for some step-ups and dips to work more of your body, or look for stairs. You can even walk stairs inside. Stair stepping works a movement pattern that’s actually really important for us, as it trains us to handle level changes, which can minimize potential injuries, aches, and pains later on.”
Step Stress Away
Anytime you feel a little stressed—say if your plane is late at the airport, shoot for a mini step goal (like 250 steps) and walk for a few minutes. “Stepping up your walking is an antidote to cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can increase appetite and cravings,” Perkins says. “Stress and cortisol levels tend to be higher during the holidays, so when it comes to weight loss, there’s no better time to get your steps in.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.