Holiday Exercise: Make It a Pleasure, Not a Punishment

The majority of adults in the United States are not physically active on a regular basis. Only 30% get the recommended amount of physical activity. Lack of time is the most often cited reason for not getting in enough exercise.

When the holiday season begins, the lack of time issue only becomes more problematic. For most people, even for those who do exercise regularly, this means that daily exercise slips to the bottom of the long list of things to do at the holidays. You know that list: gift shopping, party hopping, and traveling to see family and friends.

Take some time to figure out what you can and can't control. Then, work on the elements you can control to help with your time management. Here are some ways you can stay on track with your exercise routine throughout the holidays.

Set Short- and Long-Term Goals

Rather than drag yourself to the gym each day to burn off some of that eggnog, set a fitness goal for the holiday season.

Try writing down what you want to accomplish during the 2-month period from November 20 to January 20. Choose a goal such as losing 5 pounds, increasing your strength, or improving your time in a mile run. Don't make exercise a penance for the holiday cookies you ate. Make it a personal goal unrelated to holiday revelry.

Your goals need to be flexible and in line with your capabilities, needs, values, and available resources. They should be challenging, but also realistic. Measure the baseline of where you are now and decide where you would like to be on a certain date in January.

Write down your goal and take ownership of it by signing it—either by yourself or with a workout partner.

Develop Rituals

Rituals are another way that you can gain control over your environment.

Here are examples of rituals that may work for you:

  • Have a set time in the morning to work out.
  • Have your gym bag packed and ready to go the night before.
  • Have your workout planned before you arrive at the gym.

Get a Workout Partner

Some people find that working out with a partner helps motivate them and keep them consistent in terms of getting to the gym. Knowing that someone is waiting at the gym for you will hopefully motivate you on the days you don't feel like getting out of bed to exercise. Another option is to hire a trainer for a couple of months. Money spent and potentially wasted can be a powerful motivator. Consider it a gift to yourself.

Train for an Event or Sport

Whether you like to ski or snowboard or whatever, being fit will make your winter activities more enjoyable. Knowing you need to be physically prepared may be the motivational tool you need in terms of keeping you consistent with your workouts. Realizing that all your training will have an additional benefit, other than improved fitness, may also improve your chances of sticking with it.

If you don't already have something to train for, consider these:

  • Sport-specific training—getting ready for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, or a winter basketball league
  • 5K or 10K road race
  • Triathlon or biathlon

So, for this holiday season, find some motivation that has nothing to do with guilt.


American Heart Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology


2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 9, 2017.
The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. US Department of Health and Human Services' Surgeon General website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 9, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 11/9/2015

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