Holiday Exercise, No Gym Required

Related topics: Health & Wellness

By adding heart-pumping twists to tasks already on a holiday to-do list, we can get daily exercise throughout the holiday season, say experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Woman with shopping bags

"It's important to maintain your fitness as much as possible during the holidays, but don't worry if you're too busy to go to the gym," says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson. "Many holiday activities offer ways to get the 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity that your body needs to help fight off many forms of cancer and other diseases."

Exercising also helps the body burn extra holiday calories. "You can break up your 30 minutes of daily exercise into three 10-minute or two 15-minute chunks as your schedule allows," says Basen-Engquist.

Here's how to turn exercise excuses into heart rate-boosting opportunities this holiday season.


Stop driving around in search of a parking space near the door. Park far from the entrance or, if you're taking the bus or train, get off a stop or two early. Once you're inside, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. This way, you'll pack in some extra walking. "For walking to count as exercise, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster," Basen-Engquist says. "You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not to sing holiday songs."

Hosting guests?

Readying the house for guests—and cleaning up after they leave—is a great way to sneak in aerobic activity. Basen-Engquist recommends focusing on activities that use large muscle groups, like the legs and back. This includes vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, gardening and even taking multiple trips upstairs to put away laundry or holiday decorations. "The most important thing is to get your heart rate up at a consistent level," she says. "You should sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes without stopping."


Use these tips to speed up your heart rate when on the road:

  • Flying or taking the train or bus? While waiting to depart, take a brisk walk around the terminal—and avoid moving sidewalks. When you arrive at your destination, make your walk to baggage claim or the exit a quick one.
  • Driving? Add physical activity to gas and bathroom breaks by adding a brisk walk.
  • Staying at a hotel or with friends or relatives? Many hotels offer gyms and even exercise classes. If that's not an option, use an exercise DVD. Or explore the area by taking a jog, walk or hike.

If you can't fit exercise into your holiday activities, try these tips:

  • Use your lunch break to jog or take a brisk walk.
  • Take the stairs at work.
  • Schedule workouts in advance.
  • Enlist a friend or partner to walk with you during the holidays. Buddying up provides motivation and gives you a chance to catch up and stay connected.

"Remember, it's hard to start exercising after you've gotten out of the habit," Basen-Engquist says. "By making physical activity part of your holiday plans, you'll ensure you have the momentum to keep exercising in the New Year."

Source: University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

It's so important to be active, no matter what time of year. But winter may offer extra hazards as we go about our day. Read on to find some information from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons about staying safe during the holidays.
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