“How to stay healthy during the holidays” is a tough ask. It’s challenging to eat properly and find time to train during the holidays. Between long hours crunched in a car or airplane and days spent with family members whose nutritional habits and activity levels likely don’t mirror your own, it’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands and forget about your healthy lifestyle until after New Year’s Day.
That would be a mistake. With some planning, communication, and effort, it’s possible to continue your workout regimens and healthy eating throughout the holiday season and not miss a beat into the new year.
The key is planning and managing expectations. It’s easy to plan for an active week of working out with family only to get busy with family activities and traditions and gorge on food and alcohol. Whether it’s hosting family at your home or visiting loved ones, build time into the schedule while recognizing that you likely will have to dial back your regimen, which is okay.
There’s always that family member or two that gets annoyed when people disappear on their own to train. Address that head-on by mentioning that you plan to train for an hour. Ask if anyone would like to join in; you might start a new family tradition. Or train before everyone else gets up. Chances are, you might be the only one up at 5 a.m. You might have undisturbed time to train and nobody will ever miss you.
Holiday Fitness Tips
If you’re someone that normally trains that early, great. By keeping your consistent schedule, even if on the road, you’re likely to maintain that schedule. The science behind habits suggests that keeping a consistent schedule, regardless of location, reinforces habits.
Don’t worry if you have little to no training equipment while traveling. As yoga enthusiasts, we tend to be minimalists when it comes to gear and nobody likes to be weighed down when traveling. A few simple items like a resistance band, a lacrosse or tennis ball to work on knots and trigger points, and perhaps a yoga mat are all you need. Even the yoga mat is optional; find some carpeting or even a towel.
If you’re someone who prefers strength training with weights, don’t fret over going a week or even two without hoisting iron. You won’t lose your hard-earned gains. Plus, you’ll give your muscles time to recover and can address other areas you probably have been ignoring such as mobility, restorative stretching, and perhaps some physical therapy moves you’ve fallen behind on. Mix in some bodyweight workouts and, of course, yoga.
Don’t be embarrassed about training even if you’re in a house full of people who engage in no physical activity. If you’re doing some yoga moves while everyone else is in front of the TV, maybe that will inspire them to join you. You never know what example you’re setting for younger family members.
By maintaining a training regimen, you’re more likely to avoid overeating and drinking, which is tough during the holidays when there are sugary treats and libations everywhere. That’s because it’s psychologically challenging to consume fatty foods and alcohol following training when your body is craving nutrients found in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
Sitting for Long Periods of Time
As difficult as it can be to find time to train while hosting or visiting family, it can be even more challenging during a long, grueling day of holiday travel whether that takes the form of a marathon car ride or a day spent on airplanes and in terminals. As exhausting as travel can be, don’t write off working out and taking care of yourself because of travel. This holds true all year long, of course, but it seems the traveling degree of difficulty multiplies during the holidays.
Sitting for hours, whether in a car, plane, or terminal, causes your hips to lock up, your back to tighten, and your shoulders to round, creating a chain of pain from your neck to your feet. That’s why it’s important to perform some movements to reset your posture every hour or so. If driving, there’s no excuse not to stop once an hour at a rest area or gas station and get out and stretch. Don’t be that guy (usually Dad) who insists on setting a new personal best time on the road, as if anyone cares if you shave 20 minutes off a four-hour drive. Take frequent breaks from driving.
11 Stretches For Long Flights + Car Yoga
Even when stuck for an hour or two seated in a car or airplane, there are still many moves you can do to stretch and reset your posture. (Follow along video at the end!)
GLUTE ACTIVATION: Having a flat butt doesn’t mean you lack the genetics of an offensive lineman. It’s more a symptom of tight hips and poor movement patterns, which translate into deactivated glutes, which lead to back and other posture-related ailments – all linked to too much sitting and aggravated while traveling. The solution? Squeeze your glutes – butt cheeks – one at a time throughout the day, including while stuck in traffic or on a plane.
SHOULDER DROPS: Sitting rounds the shoulders and produces that hunched-over look while also contributing to neck and back pain. This is aggravated by sitting in airline seats designed for people 5-foot-5 and smaller. Throughout your day and especially while traveling, pull your shoulders back and down in sets of 10. Think in terms of bringing them down into your back pockets. This resets posture and prevents neck pain.
TUMMY TIGHTENERS: The transverse abdominus is a remarkable little muscle from which movement from the core region begins. Unfortunately, it also shuts down from too much sitting. Reactivate it by slowly pulling the belly button away from your belt buckle or waistband. If on a plane or in a car, pull it away from the seatbelt. Think not in terms of sucking in the gut or holding your breath as if about to take a punch but rather slowly moving the belly button back and forth.
SEATED BOAT POSE: Either grip your airline or car seat (as a passenger) or, if that’s not possible, move forward on the seat. Lift your knees off the ground and hover your feet a foot off the floor. This challenges your hips and abs. Don’t let your back round. Work on keeping your chest open.
SEATED DOWNWARD DOG: While sitting in a car (not driving) or airline seat, lift your arms overhead as high overhead and as far back as you can. Lean forward while keeping your arms straight up. Keep your neck neutral with your chin pulled toward the throat. What’s effective is that we’re getting some shoulder and back work accomplished, which is hard to do from a seated position.
SEATED CAT/COW: That the traditional compound yoga movement and do it in a seated position. Inhale and arch your back, then exhale and round the back. Keep this up at your own pace. Make sure your inhale matches the arching and the exhale with the rounding and tucking in and down. Do as many as you like. After all, you have the time on a plane. If driving, save this one for a traffic light.
SEATED FIGURE 4s: While seated as a passenger in a car or on a plane, bring your legs as close together as possible. Cross the right leg over the left. Twist to the right. Look behind you. If you have the room, come to a seated figure four. Keep your right foot active, flex quads and calves, and lean slightly forward. Keep your back forward and hinge slightly forward to increase the intensity of the stretch. Hold for up to 90 seconds and switch sides.
BALL SQUEEZES: Squeezable stress balls were a popular office gift years ago. Stress relief is still important, but carpal tunnel syndrome has become an epidemic now that most of us spend so much time on a computer or smartphone. Travel with a golf ball and/or lacrosse ball. Roll it along your fingers and especially along the pads of the hands to release tension. This is good for everyone, but especially white-knuckle flyers who do not deal well with turbulence.
TOE ROLLS: Take that same golf ball and/or lacrosse ball and roll it along the bottoms of your feet, ideally barefoot but at least in socks. (Never go barefoot on planes.) We carry a lot of tension in our feet and rolling along hard balls releases that stress while also improving our sense of proprioception, which helps the body avoid falls. Roll between the toes, along the length of the feet, all the way to the heels.
TOWEL STRETCH: This is another effective stretch to open up those hunched-over shoulders. Unless you have enough flexibility already, you’ll need to keep a small hand towel at your desk. Lean forward with one hand behind your neck holding the towel and your elbow pointing up. Use your other hand to gently pull the other end of the towel down. You’ll likely find this easier on one side than the other. Unlike a lot of stretches, you can make relatively quick progress on this one if done daily, to the point where you can forego the towel and gradually grasp hands on both sides. Do a set of 10 two-second holds on each side.
ANKLE STRETCH: Our ankles go unused during all of these hours at a desk. Keep them at full activation with a simple stretch. With feet extended and off the ground, flex (forward) feet, pointing the toes down. Hold for a two count and repeat for a set of 10. Next dorsiflex the feet, pulling the toes toward the shin. Hold for a two count and repeat for a set of 10.
About Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.
Dean Pohlman is an E-RYT 200 certified yoga instructor and the founder of Man Flow Yoga. Dean is widely considered to be an authority on Yoga for Men. He has worked with physical therapists to create yoga programs for back health and spinal recovery. His workouts and programs have been used by professional and collegiate athletes, athletic trainers, and personal trainers; and have been recommended by physical therapists, doctors, chiropractors, and other medical professionals.
Dean is a successfully published author through DK Publishing (Yoga Fitness for Men), selling 35,000 copies worldwide in English, French, and German; in addition to being a co-producer of the Body by Yoga DVD Series, which has sold over 40,000 copies on Amazon since its release in 2016.
Man Flow Yoga has been featured in Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Mens’ Health, The Chicago Sun, New York Magazine, and many more major news media outlets.