A class regular came in the other day noting that all the progress she had made on a frozen shoulder had been undone by nine months of sitting inside reading. Her comments reminded me of what a former professor told me in a class long ago: that the small but steady increase in body weight many Westerners experience over their lifetime is majorly influenced by the holiday period—a time when food calories increase quite a bit while, simultaneously, physical activity declines. The annual increase in weight isn’t much—it’s somewhere between one and two pounds—but when the holiday quarter is over, the aftermath of our celebratory indulgence (in cookies but also in the hours we opt to stay inside, cozied up with family and friends) lingers indefinitely.
Unlike extra cookies, we can’t store extra movement in our bodies to access during periods of a movement fast. Even though we might resume activity at the end of the holiday period, we’re not undoing the time we took off from moving. Getting back on the fitness wagon gets us back to our movement-baseline—but it doesn’t really deal with the deficit of “movement units” (minutes) we didn’t consume. In order to balance any holiday impact after the fact, we need to do the amount of movement we were doing before and more.
The last year and a half certainly has been the opposite of a celebration, yet many of our movement and diet routines were altered in a similar way that they can be during the winter holiday season: in addition to more comfort-food snacking and drinking, our collective physical activity took a rapid plunge. We’re currently experiencing the physiological effects equal to three or four consecutive holiday periods AND DID I MENTION THAT THIS TIME WAS NOT JOYOUS AT ALL?
Our physiology runs on a foundation of movement. We need to move and we need to move a lot. Thus, our lack of movement during the pandemic is a big problem—for frozen shoulders, for sore knees and hips, for our metabolism and for all of our cells, really.
So the problem: we’re about to step into a holiday season that typically has us NOT moving while many of us were already experiencing a movement deficit. We simply cannot wait until the new year to get back to how we were moving a year and a half ago. We need to start moving now—and we need to do more than get our activity levels back to where they were before; we have to do that and more in order to deal with any accumulated sedentarism.
Now, I am all about celebration (and who doesn’t love a good cookie?), but my professor’s reframe has stuck with me over the years and helped me shape the holidays I celebrate into more dynamic versions so they don’t have to be associated with decreases in physical activity. Holidays themselves are not the problem—all our sedentary traditions are. And while the issue of widespread and increasing physical inactivity is indeed urgent, reversing this trend doesn’t have to mean drudgery. We can deal with this matter joyfully. Celebration doesn’t require sedentarism!
There are many ways to infuse whatever holidays you celebrate with more movement. And I've written about a ton of them. From how to throw a dynamic holiday meal (start planning your on-a-walk soup course or dessert hike now!) to orchestrating a hiking advent for winter school break, to giving gifts that move both the giver and receiver to dealing with really cold weather, I'm sharing the ways I've figured out how to keep me, and my family, moving. This is not moving more in spite of the holidays; this is how to make the holidays even better with movement.
And it's not only the individual holidays that could use a makeover. We can infuse this naturally celebratory time with casual, no-fuss weekly gatherings that get us moving despite decreasing daylight and colder temperatures.
Host an outdoor "soup and sports night" (ours has been christened spoupsday) where one family brings a soccer ball, football, and a huge pot of soup to eat with a few other families in a park. Gather in community for one to two hours to decompress from the day, play and run around in the last bit of sunlight, or with flashlights in the dark, or with a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee, before going home for the evening.
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Or, start a weekly meetup with your friends for a post-dinner walk in the dark. With warm beverages, always!
When you’re home, throw a one-or-two-song dance party and celebrate that you made it through another day.
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Gain extra movement minutes by practicing just one exercise here or there throughout the day.
Moving more doesn’t need to be a slog; it can be the way you spread cheer and connection. It certainly is the way we like to!
P.S. Stay tuned for our annual exercise advent (we've got you covered through December!). And as for January 2022, how about shooting for 22 minutes of movement on top of whatever your “best of” daily movement time was before? More on that later…