It’s festive party season; a time when we allow ourselves to relax, socialise, drink more and eat one more mince pie than is strictly necessary. If you typically put on a few pounds over the coming weeks or end up starting the New Year feeling crap, then read on!
Here are our top tips to help you get to 2020 feeling bright and energetic, without having to avoid indulging in all that Christmas has to offer.
Nothing you want to do will happen unless you plan for it, particularly over the festive period. Acknowledge and accept that you are probably going to eat and drink too much and not exercise as much as you want to. Rather than worrying about it, plan around it.
Take 5 minutes at the beginning of the week and work out when you’ll exercise, when you’ll shop for food, when you’ll rest up, etc. If you end up having to miss a planned exercise session, then move it, rather than deleting it. Get it done later in the week.
Good days don’t happen by accident. You can start off on the right foot by eating a great breakfast (perhaps the only meal you’re in full control of) and keeping healthy snacks to hand.
The best plans can go to pot, but remember that just because you’ve got a flat tyre doesn’t mean you should slash the other three. Each decision is separate and you’re in control of making it a better one.
We’re not suggesting you stick to drinking water, but rather remember that most drinks have calories, certainly all alcoholic drinks. A bottle of wine has 5-600 calories; a pint of beer has about 200 calories; a gin and tonic has 1-200 calories (depending on tonic choice and whether it’s a bar serving, or your generous friend).
You can minimise the aftereffects of alcohol by picking your drink with a little extra care, for example:
- Red wine is better than beer as there are fewer calories per serving and you’ll avoid the bloating effects of beer. For men particularly, beer can trigger an increase in oestrogen-like chemicals which cause you to store fat on your chest and as far as I’m aware, moobs aren’t making a fashion comeback any time soon.
- Think twice about the mixers you add to drinks as most are packed with sugar. Here’s a list of the most common mixers together with calories and grams of sugar for a 200ml serving:
- Cranberry juice (99 calories, 24g sugar)
- Lemonade (94 calories, 23g sugar)
- Red Bull (90 calories, 22g sugar)
- Orange juice (90 calories, 20g sugar)
- Cola (84 calories, 21g sugar)
- Tonic water (44 calories, 10g sugar)
- Soda water (0 calories, no sugar)
Try eating before you start drinking. It should slow your drinking down and help avoid the late-night munchies. I’m sure you realise that drinking alcohol encourages people to make poor food choices.
Finally, it’s not just alcoholic drinks to watch out for. Fruit smoothies, flavoured coffee, hot chocolate and soft drinks can all pack a calorie punch.
All the extra socialising is going to take time and you need to make it up somewhere. When it comes to exercise, the worst workout is the one you didn’t do.
Don’t think that just because you haven’t got enough time to get changed, get to the gym, exercise, shower, etc. you should discount exercise completely. Even a 20 minute brisk walk has been shown to have health benefits.
In fact, short bursts of high intensity exercise can be more effective at reducing body fat, improving endurance, and regulating blood sugar and insulin than longer periods of exercise.
So, next time you have less than half an hour spare, try one of the following (after warming up properly):
- 20 seconds each of star jumps, body weight squats, press-ups and box jumps with 10 seconds rest between each exercise. That’s just 4 minutes of exercise. Feeling more energetic? Add other exercises and go around again.
- Try skipping with a rope as fast as and long as you can. Take a short rest to recover, then repeat until you’re out of time. Skipping ropes are cheap to buy and easy to pack if you’re travelling.
- Get on your bike or start running, but try 30 seconds as fast as you can, then two minutes slow. Repeat for 8 times in total, giving you 20 minutes that should leave you wondering why you didn’t find more time to go to the gym.
- If it snows, it’s time to be the star of your street and clear the pavements and driveways of neighbours. Just remember to lift through your knees and not your back.
Whichever way you over-indulge, your body needs to deal with it and your liver takes the brunt. If you help it do its job, you’ll be back up and running faster.
Your liver needs protein and antioxidants to detoxify your body. With too little of either, the process is not completed fully and the toxins can be released back in to the body.
Give your liver a head start by eating plenty of protein rich foods together with fruit and veg packed with vitamins and minerals (particularly the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E). If you can’t manage to eat the fruit and veg, then blitz them in a smoothie or take a good multi-vitamin and a fibre supplement.
Be aware that drinking alcohol rarely has a positive effect on your health. What you are trying to do here is limit the damage and speed up recovery.
Don’t try to do too much without proper rest and sleep. On a normal day, you should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep. When your body is trying to sort through the damage of the day before, it’s going to need more time. Unfortunately, alcohol, eating late and caffeine all reduce the quality of our sleep.
If you have a smart watch, you can see this for yourself. Sleep with your watch monitoring your heart rate and look at the graph in the morning. For days when you’ve been drinking, your heart rate whilst sleeping will be higher as your body has to work harder to reset itself. Your waking heart rate will also be noticeable higher, perhaps by 15-20%.
Give yourself a fighting chance to get quality sleep by making sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet; avoiding TV, e-mails & computer games before sleeping; and drinking water to reduce dehydration before you drop off.
If you don’t need to get up at a certain time, don’t set an alarm. If you still wake feeling under par, then I recommend going for a jog for half an hour before breakfast. It may be the last thing that you feel like doing, but the combination of fresh air and firing up your body really does make a difference to your recovery.
Being dehydrated is probably the fastest way to feeling ill the next day. Your body is 60-70% water and you need to keep hydrated to function properly. Just being 3% dehydrated will give you a headache, reduce blood volume and impact your kidneys. 5% dehydration requires medical attention. 10% can lead to heat stroke and circulatory collapse.
So, drink more water (putting ice in your drinks does not count) and limit alcohol, coffee and tea with caffeine as these will encourage you to pass more water. Before you go out, put water by your bed and drink it when you get home. Better to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet than wake up with a worse headache.
Most people just want to have a good time. The party season is going to happen. Some things will go well; some will not. Enjoy it, don’t fight it. Go with the flow.
Stress has numerous bad effects on the human body, not least because it triggers a hormonal effect that encourages people to store fat around their middle. Find ways to de-stress your Christmas and keep things simple. A few years back, my wife and I decided not to buy each other presents and now both our families have pretty much stopped too. My Christmas shopping takes 5 minutes, leaving more time for everything else.
You don’t have to write off December from a health and fitness perspective. It’s not too late to start your fitness campaign now and get a little ahead for 2020. Who knows, you may not need so many virtuous New Year’s resolutions this time.
The leaner you are, the easier your body will deal with Christmas excesses. Re-read tip number 1 and start preparing for a fitter and healthier you in 2020.
Are you ready to thrive?