MD Anderson Offers Holiday Exercise Tips: No Gym Required

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

"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," said 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," Basen-Engquist said.

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

Shopping?
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. 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 said. "You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not sing holiday songs."

Once you're inside, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator and, if possible, carry your purchases instead of using a shopping cart. This will help get your heart pumping and strengthen your muscles.

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," Basen-Engquist said. "You should sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes without stopping."

Traveling?
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. Kick a soccer ball, throw a Frisbee or take 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 MD Anderson's seven-day exercise plan. Or explore the area by taking a jog, walk or hike.

None of these work for you?
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 said. "By making physical activity part of your holiday plans, you'll ensure you have the momentum to keep exercising in the New Year."

For more information, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.

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