Exercise during the festive season

Exercise during the festive seasonA regular exercise regime is essential for a healthy and happy lifestyle. Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight range, improves body strength and fitness, and has positive psychological effects. People who exercise regularly generally live happier lives and are less stressed than those who do not. Often described as the cheaper non-pharmacotherapeutic treatment alternative, or “exercise therapy”, the benefits of exercise are widespread throughout the body system.

Once festive season parties and celebrations begin it is all too easy to swap 30 minutes of exercise for an extra drink at the bar. While letting your hair down for a couple of days will not do your health or fitness any harm (within reason!) when this extends from the beginning of the Christmas parties in early December to well into the New Year it becomes a problem. Furthermore, the more time you spend out of your regular habit the harder it will be to restart your regular regime.

Why is it difficult to exercise during the holiday period?

It is not difficult to list valid reasons that exercise and nutritional regimes are interrupted during the holiday period. Long distance travel and the associated jet lag, interference with usual routines, entertaining visitors, additional responsibilities as well as the general holiday atmosphere all make it very difficult to stay motivated and keep exercise a priority.

Weight gain over the festive season

There is a well documented tendency for people to overindulge during the festive season which commonly leading to substantial weight gain over the holiday period. Studies have shown that people generally gain as much as 500% more weight per week during holiday weeks compared with non-holiday weeks. This highlights the importance of being aware of how much and what you are eating and to make sure you continue to achieve 30 mins of exercise a day over this period.

The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon

Exercise during the festive seasonThe terms “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” were coined after analysis found that there is a significant raise in cardiac events that has been observed during the festive season. Doctors have suggested that the accumulation of stress and overindulgence during the festive season is responsible for this incidence.

Diet and alcohol overindulgence, especially in predisposed people, is a risky mix and should be avoided. While exercise will not eliminate the risk for cardiac events, it is an avenue to minimise the risk factors; decreasing stress and reducing the net kilojoule count at the end of the day.

Exercise: Combating stress and depression over the festive season

Christmas can be a very stressful time and for many people it can also be a very depressing time of the year, especially those with broken homes or those who have lost loved ones. Accumulating evidence suggests that exercise has “antidepressant” qualities; significantly decreasing stress and anxiety and combating the harmful consequences of stress on emotions, physical and mental health.

The relationship between exercise and depression is complex and as yet the mechanism underlying the therapeutic effects has not been established. Exercise has been shown to improve depressive symptoms and a lack of exercise has been shown to increase depression. Additionally, individuals that adopt a physically active lifestyle are less likely to develop depressive symptoms. A vicious cycle effect may exist between the two where an initial lack of physical activity can promote feelings of laziness, guilt and unattractiveness which can predispose a person to become more depressed which in turn affects motivation to begin an exercise program and so on and so forth. This could explain why it is so difficult to restart an exercise regime after taking a break over the festive period and highlights the importance of maintaining good habits over this time.

Physical activity and mental health For more information on physical activity and mental health, see Exercise for Brain Health.

Festive season exercise tips

Exercise during festive periodStill not motivated to engage in physical activity during the holiday period? It is not unusual to come to the end of the year and believe you need a well deserved break from all the hard work you have been doing all year, and this is understandable. But who says that you need to wake up at 6am and do weights at the gym? During the festive season it is wise to change our exercise goals. Not only will this help you to keep motivated but will expose different muscles to a work out.

The festive season is a time for family and friends. Try changing your normal exercise routine to fun activities the whole family can enjoy. Encourage a game of street or beach cricket with the kids, a backyard game of ‘chasey’ or a swim at the beach.  Social exercise does not feel like the regular “work out” and it gives everyone a chance to participate.

Christmas can be a very stressful time so taking some time out to participate in yoga, tai chi or pilates will be a beneficial exercise to combat stress while also keeping up with an active lifestyle.

Pilates For more information, see Pilates.


It is natural to lose enthusiasm for exercise over the holiday period but try not to let this discourage you. Modifying your routine slightly will keep you active and you will be more likely to be motivated in the New Year.

More information

Fitness For more information on fitness and exercise, including stretches, types of exercise, exercise recovery and exercise with health conditions, as well as some useful videos, see Fitness.
Health during the festive season For more information on health during the festive season, including sleep, diet, exercise and stress, see Health During the Festive Season.


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