Getting in a bit of exercise every day is key to keeping fit during holiday season.
You’ve spent all year getting fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, trying to be mindful and taking care of your budget. But it doesn’t have to turn to custard over the Christmas holidays. Reporter Jenny
Ling gets tips from four experts in their fields on how to stay fit, eat well, and look after your mental and financial health this silly season.
Keeping your body in shape over the silly season is all about being flexible and staying active, according to personal trainer Jackie Ashdown.
Ashdown, from Age Drop Personal Training and Coaching, recommends taking advantage of Northland’s ample beaches and walks and getting involved in outdoor games with the kids during the holidays.
Even if you’re not heading to the gym in your usual routine, there are plenty of ways to stay active.
It’s all about factoring in some sort of fitness activity every day, Ashdown said.
“It’s about looking at your day and factoring in where you can fit in at least a walk.
“See where you are, and if you’ve got kids, play sporty things with them.
“Wherever you are go, think, ‘What’s an activity we can do today?’ Whether you’re exploring a new walk, playing beach cricket, going for a swim, or anything where you’re getting out and running around.”
Ashdown spent the last 20 years in London working as a personal trainer in gyms and online to help her clients live healthier, happier lives.
She moved back to New Zealand earlier this year and settled in Kerikeri.
Ashdown, who is also a qualified nutritional therapist and lifestyle coach, said there are loads of exercise options available on YouTube, whether you want to do yoga, pilates, or fit in a gentle stretching routine.
“If you normally go to the gym, you can still do a bodyweight circuit with squats, push-ups, lunges, planks, crunches and back extensions.”
Ashdown recommends choosing five or six exercises, like those mentioned above, and doing three sets of 10 – 15 reps each.
Resistance bands also give you more options, and are light and easy to pack.
“It’s planning it into your day – even if you go on holiday, think, ‘Okay, where’s the time for me where I can fit in 20 minutes of actual exercise?’
“One day you could do a bodyweight circuit, and the next day do yoga or pilates.
“The rest of the day, try to be as active as possible.”
While you may not have all the exercise weights and equipment on hand, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed at your fitness goals over the holidays.
“It’s not about being perfect on your summer holidays, it’s about relaxing and enjoying stuff, but trying to stay as active as possible so you feel good.
“People get hung up on things; if they open a packet of biscuits and eat two, they think they might as well eat the whole packet.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s your break. But use it as an opportunity to explore other activities.
“If you usually go to the gym, why not try paddleboarding, kayaking or cycling?
“At the same time, it gives your training a focus.”
And when returning from a break, Ashdown suggests easing your way back in.
“Don’t go from zero to hero, smash yourself in the gym the first session back, and end up really sore and potentially injure yourself.
“Bring it back to 50 per cent for your activities for the first week. Leave some in the tank and the body will re-adjust.
“It’s horrible otherwise. You’ll end up in a world of pain, and it’s not fun.”
Sticking to a routine and choosing healthy foods will get you through the Christmas holiday period without having to buy new pants, dietician Chontelle Watts reckons.
If you’re staying around home, try to have standard meals, and make sure to enjoy summer fruit and eat more salads.
“Having vegetables with more than one meal a day is a really good way of getting the good food in rather than thinking about what not to eat.
“If you’re going away, plan what facilities you’ll have to cook with, plan for meals and make sure you do a grocery shop.
“If you’re going camping, you can still eat healthy when you’re off the grid.”
Watts works as a dietitian at M3 Clinic and Studio in Whangārei part-time, and spends the other half at Whangārei Hospital.
Her philosophy is about living a balanced lifestyle, eating nutritious foods and keeping fit – while leaving room for chocolate and wine.
Overindulging on Christmas Day isn’t too much of an issue, Watts said.
“But it’s not just Christmas Day anymore, it’s all the pre-Christmas events. There’s the work do, and catching up with friends, and the kids might have stuff on… all those extra things add up.
“When it’s a few times a week and you’re having all this extra food, it becomes an issue.
“Staying in a routine is a really good way to prevent doing that.”
Watts suggests having a healthy mindset around food.
Trying to avoid temptation altogether is fruitless – it’s okay to allow yourself to have some treats, she said.
“It’s like telling a child ‘don’t jump in the puddle’ – all they want to do is jump in the puddle.
“Adults are really similar; if we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we usually cave in and overindulge.”
But there are ways to avoid overindulging, such as eating a healthy breakfast to set yourself up for the day.
“We are far less likely to overindulge when we’re satisfied.
“No skimping on meals earlier in the day.
“Make sure you have good healthy meals and are filling your plate with lots of protein, fibre, and colour at every meal.
“They’ll keep your stomach full for longer and will regulate your blood sugars, which means you’re less likely to have that low energy and then eat more crappy food.”
Reducing alcohol intake is also important, Watts said.
“Lots of people don’t realise alcohol itself is really high in calories. A glass here and a glass there all adds up at this time of year.
“Pick the event that you might want to have a drink at, and for the others, try some non-alcoholic options.”
Eating mindfully and being aware of the ‘scarcity mindset’ will also help people stay on track.
“Check in with yourself; are you actually hungry for more, or are you just eating because there’s heaps of food left over and you can’t be bothered cooking dinner?
“If you’re going to a barbecue, fill up with vegetables and salads first to get those nourishing foods in before you crack into the meat and chips.”
And remember, those special Christmas foods like ham, scorched almonds, turkey and stuffing, and brandy snaps are available all year round.
When you realise you can eat them any time, you’re in better control of your food choices, Watts said.
“Chocolate might be shaped like Santa now, but you can buy chocolate at any time of the year.”
Taking care of your mental health can be difficult when you’re trying to cram everything in before Christmas.
It can be a stressful time of year, with a million things to do and people to catch up with, along with family tensions and managing kids’ expectations around gifts.
But if anyone is qualified to dish out advice on how to stay grounded, it’s mindfulness coach Antonia Fiteni, who experienced severe war trauma as a young girl while living in Beirut, Lebanon.
Mindfulness meditation has been her anchor over the last 30 years, and she highly recommends finding time for mindfulness and breathing practices every day.
“Even if it’s five minutes every morning before you start the day to regulate your nervous system so you’re not in fight-or-flight and feel more anchored.”
Mindfulness can help reduce overthinking and repetitive thought patterns, alleviate stress and anxiety, calm the nervous system and improve sleep.
Practicing mindfulness while doing everyday activities such as having a shower, doing the washing-up, or eating a meal can bring about a sense of calm, she said.
Focusing on the sound, smell, taste, colour, shape and texture of the activity helps anchor the wandering mind to focus on the task at hand.
It’s all about being present in the experience to fully enjoy it, Fiteni said.
“We live a large proportion of the time in a continuous cycle of stress.
“Where do we find the off button?
“Often, we go outside ourselves; we go for a longer run, eat more food, drink more wine… when actually, that off switch is always inside of us.
“There will always be stresses.
“It’s how you deal with them.”
Fiteni, who runs The Mindful Coach in Tutukaka, said being more present while performing tasks will naturally reduce stress and produce more fulfilling experiences.
“Sometimes we can be talking to someone, and we’re nodding our heads, but our mind has hijacked our experience and we’re thinking about something totally different.
“Bringing more awareness in our day-to-day life is important so we’re experiencing our world.
“Often when we sit down to eat a meal, we’re in such a rush.
“Sit down and notice the steam coming off the food, the colour – chew slowly, taste the food, swallow before you take another mouthful.
“It’s amazing how it can change your experience and bring more awareness into your day.”
Mindful walking is another great way to stay grounded, especially if you can take off your shoes and walk on the grass or sand.
If things get overwhelming or you find yourself always rushing, Fiteni recommends the ‘stop’ practice.
“Just stop, take a breath, observe your thoughts and feelings, let them go and proceed.
“Just take a moment of awareness of where you’re at. And, deregulating the fight-or-flight mode can make you a bit calmer.”
Signs of stress include feeling hot and agitated, muscle twitches, tingling, and feeling constricted in the chest or throat.
“All those things can be red flags that say we’re beginning to feel out of our comfort zone.
“When you start to bring mindful awareness into tasks, it starts to seep out into daily life.
“You start to see things that were there, but you never had the time to see them.”
Keeping your finances healthy over Christmas is possible, financial adviser Malcolm Shepherd believes, but it takes a bit of planning and effort.
Make a list and factor in not only gifts, but drinks and food you’ll need to take to work dos and Christmas events, along with travel.
“Make something tangible – say you’ll buy this number of gifts for this amount of people, and this is the budget and let’s stick to it.
“Online shopping is not a bad idea when comes to your Christmas list.
“What happens when we go into a store is we have emotive buying going on.
“When online, we know what we’re spending and we’re not going to get gazumped.”
Shepherd, founder of Quantum Financial Advisers in Kerikeri, also recommends online grocery shopping because it’s easier to know what you’re spending.
If a trip to the supermarket is necessary, leave the cards at home and take cash to stop from overspending.
“Take the calculator and calculate as you go, if need be,” Shepherd said.
“What happens at Christmastime is that most people aren’t that great with their money.
“They end up charging things to their credit card, but then the bill comes in and needs to be paid in February.
“If it becomes a minimum payment, you get stuck in that silly cycle.”
With inflation sitting at a near 32-year high, creating your own hand-made gifts is also a good idea, Shepherd said.
Consider giving redeemable vouchers for tasks like babysitting, massages, picnics, homemade dinners or even housework.
Op-shops, antique stores and second-hand bookshops can be a treasure trove for the thrifty Christmas shopper, Shepherd said.
“There’s a lot of pressure to spend up big on gifts at this time of year, but pricey presents aren’t necessarily the way to go.
“Get the kids involved and teach them to understand there is more joy in giving than receiving.
“There’s also joy in trying to put something together with your own hands.
“Think about what presents you can make yourself, rather than having to buy it all.”
Shepherd recommends talking to loved ones to set limits on how much to spend on each other to keep budgets under control.
Be honest with friends and agree to a limit with them, too.
“Talk to the other adults in your extended family about only buying presents for the kids this year, rather than for the adults.
“Shop at odd hours; go in when it’s less crowded so you can choose carefully without having to jostle for space.”
Shepherd’s top tip for the super-organised: “Start planning for Christmas in January.”
“That’s when things are relaxed.
“We get into that hyper state leading into Christmas.
“If we make a plan, it’s just another day or month of the year.”