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9 ways to get and stay motivated

No, you don’t have to choose the gym over cookie-making with your family to stay fit. Follow these 11 tips, and the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ won’t completely derail your exercise routine.

’Tis the season: Cookies and peppermint bark abound, your calendar is filled with family gatherings and office parties, and suddenly you’ve completely fallen out of the exercise routine you’ve worked so hard to stick to these past 11 months.

Hectic as this time of year may be, staying active is still well worth the time and effort. In fact, a workout might be just the antidote you need before dinner with your in-laws or a long week of end-of-the-year deadlines. Exercise is about the closest you’ll get to a “miracle drug” when it comes to boosting mood and energy levels (in a dead heat with sleep).

Think of physical activity as being a pro-health boost to help compensate for some of the other splurges and stresses the season invariably brings, from extra slices of pie to transportation headaches.

Of course, keeping your workout routine on track during one of the busiest times of the year is easier said than done. Here, health and fitness experts share 11 tips for making movement a consistent — and positive — part of your holiday season.

1. Set Realistic Expectations

If your health and exercise goals include losing weight, building muscle, or boosting your performance (say, for running a race), cut yourself some slack during the holidays. While you might be able to stick to daily workouts, pack healthy lunches, and make steady progress throughout the rest of the year, it’s just not always possible during the holiday season — and that’s okay.

David Chesworth, the fitness director and a wellness coach at Hilton Head Health, recommends focusing on “maintenance” rather than “improvement” at this time of year. “While it’s challenging and time-consuming to make improvements in fitness, it’s not nearly as challenging or time consuming to maintain fitness,” he says.

By resetting your expectations for your routine and fitness during the holidays, you can stay active and enjoy all the festivities without feeling overwhelmed. “The holidays are hectic, so thank yourself for still incorporating exercise and not giving it up altogether,” says Chesworth, who is certified as an exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.

2. Plan Ahead

During busy holiday weeks (especially those that involve travel), look ahead and map out when (and where!) you can fit in some exercise.

“Figure out where you are going to work out, whether it’s a relative’s house, outside, or at a hotel gym,” Wickham says. This way, you can prepare for what workout equipment may or may not be available to you (and what apparel you may need to pack) and head into the week with realistic expectations and the comfort of having a plan.

3. Schedule Your Workouts

To help ensure that you prioritize those workouts, schedule them in your planner or phone calendar, right alongside work meetings and family gatherings.

“Studies have shown that scheduling workouts increases the likelihood that you will do them,” says Grayson Wickham, CSCS, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy and is the founder of Movement Vault, an online platform offering videos to improve flexibility and mobility and prevent injury.

4. Rise and Get to It

Whether you’ve got an office holiday party or just a million errands to run after work, there are plenty of holiday events and to-dos that threaten to derail afternoon or evening workouts.

“Moving my body first thing in the morning guarantees exercise gets checked off my list before other demands of this busy season get in the way, says Karena Dawn, a cofounder of the workout app Tone It Up and a yoga instructor certified by Yoga Alliance, the largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools. It also helps set the tone for a productive and stress-free day, she adds — two major perks if holidays tend to be nutty for you.

5. Pre-Game (With a Sweat Session)

Before you start getting ready for that ugly-sweater party or family dinner, carve out 15 minutes for a quick, do-anywhere, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout to get your heart rate and energy up, recommends Katrina Scott, also a cofounder of Tone It Up, and a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Pick five moves (like squat jacks, jump squats, mountain climbers, and bicycles) and cycle through three rounds of them, working for 45 seconds and resting for 15 seconds, Scott suggests.

In addition to heading into your festivities with that post-workout high, you’ll also reap the benefits of a boosted metabolism. “Because of the high-intensity nature of HIIT, your body continues to work hard to restore itself for hours after you finish your workout,” Scott says.

6. Travel With Your Workout Essentials

When you hit the road this holiday season, keep a few easy workout tools with you so you can squeeze in a little exercise wherever your travels take you.

“I like to travel with two long resistance bands and three small, looped bands of varying resistances,” says Wickham. With just these bands, you can get in a full-body workout — even in a tiny hotel room. Pick a few moves and cycle through them for as many rounds as you have time for. To get you started, the American Council on Exercise has step-by-step instructions for exercises such as banded abduction walks, lateral crawls, shoulder stabilizers (“superman” lifts), and more.

7. Try a Workout App

Not sure what workout to do when you’re in your grandma’s basement or have more limited gym time than usual? Don’t let the uncertainty get in your way.

“There are a lot of great exercise apps and online workout programs that can give you expert workout programming at your fingertips,” Wickham says. Many platforms offer plenty of equipment-free workouts, too, so you can squeeze in a good workout anytime, anywhere, without having to think too much.

8. Keep It Quick

On days when a 45- or 60-minute workout just isn’t in the cards, pencil in a quick 15- or 20-minute sweat. “You’ll still reap a lot of benefits from a focused 20-minute workout,” says Wickham. “Plus, it’ll keep you consistent, so that you’re better able to get back on track with your usual routine come the new year.”

9. Make Movement a Tradition

Time spent with family over the holidays often involves lots of eats and treats — and maybe less movement than usual. Get the whole family in on some exercise (whether formal or informal) by creating new family traditions that involve moving your body.

“I love finding new ways to stay active as a family,” Scott says. “When relatives are in town, we’ll take my daughter Bella on early morning and sunset strolls.” Both the exercise — and the time spent together — are rewarding.

If you don’t have a little one (or a dog) to get you out and walking, you can get the whole crew moving by signing up for a charity walk or turkey trot — or spending an afternoon volunteering together.

10. Do Your Gift Shopping in Workout Gear

Anyone who’s been in a mall around the holidays knows that running errands and gift shopping can be workouts in themselves. But if you want to make a formal workout the last errand on your to-do list, hit the stores in your workout gear.

“The fewer barriers and fewer decisions you have to make in order to work out, the better,” says Chesworth. Or keep a set of workout clothes and sneakers in your car so you can jump into a workout if the opportunity presents itself.

11. Make a Playlist to Get Yourself Into the Workout Mind-Set

If your scheduled workout time rolls around and you find yourself tempted to watch yet another Hallmark Christmas movie instead, put on one of your favorite workout tunes to help you shift gears and get motivated to exercise, suggests Chesworth. Once your energy kicks up, get to it!

Loaded Cauliflower Bites

Crispy slices of roasted cauliflower topped with cheese, sour cream and bacon make a tasty low-carb alternative to classic loaded potato skins.

How to Make This Recipe


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 5 cups 1/4-inch-thick slices cauliflower (1 1/2 pounds/1 medium head, stem trimmed)
  • ½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
  • ¼ cup sliced scallion greens


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Stir oil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl.
  3. Add cauliflower slices and gently toss to coat.
  4. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender, 10 to 14 minutes.
  5. Top with cheese, return to the oven and roast until the cheese has melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Top each cauliflower slice with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with bacon and scallion greens.

Prep Time: 25 mins
Additional Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
Servings: 8

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