Prevent holiday weight gain with healthy living tips from UAB

Prevent holiday weight gain with healthy living tips from UAB
There are ways to avoid the 'holiday spread.' UAB experts weigh in about easy-to-do exercises and tips on how to avoid overeating. (UAB)

The holiday season is a time with family, friends and fun, but it is also a time filled with lots of food and sweets.

Exercise and dieting can be hard to maintain during this time of year; but Payton Joyner, assistant director of Fitness and Well-being, and Katie Ellison, M.S., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s FitWell team with University Recreation, have some tips to help you stay healthy this holiday season.

Exercise

Finding the time to exercise can be tricky during this time of year – especially if you are traveling. If you are away from home and do not have access to your local gym, Joyner suggests finding ways to get outside.

“If you are out of town, search for local hiking trails or parks with access to fitness equipment; it can be a great way to get some exercise while also sightseeing,” Joyner said. “If you’re around children, offer to take them to the park, and work on your push-ups and pull-ups on the playground.”

Spending time outside could also help reduce some of the stress that can come with the holidays, even if you are just relaxing. A recent UAB study suggests that spending 20 minutes in an urban park makes people happier regardless of whether they are engaged in exercise during the visit.

Floor exercises can help prevent that holiday ‘spread’ of one’s waistline. (UAB)

If weather is preventing you from enjoying the outdoors, Joyner suggests turning to the internet to find workouts.

“You can find a large variety of free flexibility, yoga and meditation videos online. Or, if that is not really your style of workout, hit up a circuit-style, bodyweight workout that focuses on higher reps and shorter breaks to keep your heart rate up,” Joyner said.

Joyner suggests an eight-step workout to help you stay active if you are stuck indoors:

  1. Planks.
  2. Push-ups.
  3. Squats.
  4. Jumping jacks.
  5. Crunches.
  6. Bent over row (look for a typical household item to use as a weight, such as a gallon jug filled with water).
  7. Alternating lunges.
  8. Burpees.

“Complete as many repetitions of each exercise as you can within 20 to 30 seconds,” Joyner said. “Take 20 to 60 seconds to rest between exercises, or you can immediately move into the next exercise to make things harder. Complete this circuit two to five times.”

Joyner recommends including a warm-up of your choice to get your body ready before you begin and a cool-down to help your body ease back to resting.

Healthy eating

The holidays are filled with lots of treats, and for some it can be an overwhelming task to stay on a diet. Ellison has some suggestions to help you prepare for the holiday food.

  • Decide what you’ll eat before you get to the table. This will limit any last-minute grabbing that can overfill your plate.
  • Wait 30 minutes after finishing your first plate before deciding to get a second helping. This will give your stomach enough time to tell your brain that it is full, and you will be less tempted to overeat.
  • Take a walk after your meal. This will help you burn off some of the foods you eat and help you digest the food better, which reduces heartburn, indigestion and bloating.

Another way to be mindful during holiday meals is to substitute regular recipe ingredients and make dishes more nutritious. To do this, Ellison recommends:

  • Add cauliflower to mashed potatoes, which adds more bulk without the extra calories.
  • Instead of butter, use thyme, cumin, garlic or nutmeg to add flavor to mashed potatoes.
  • Use fat-free chicken broth when preparing dressing or gravies.
  • Double the amount of vegetables in your dressing.
  • In salad dressing, substitute fat-free Greek yogurt and artificial sweetener for mayonnaise and sugar, to give you extra protein and less sugar.
  • Add at least one serving of nonstarchy vegetables to your plate.
  • Use unsweetened almond milk instead of evaporated milk in pumpkin pie to cut sugars by more than half.

The holidays are a time to spend with family and friends, and with a few smart choices you can enjoy all of the traditions and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

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