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How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays: Advice from Dr. Evan Matthews

Exercising can fight stress and balance holiday excess

Posted in: College News and Events, Exercise Science and Physical Education

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All those articles and advice you may see this holiday season about burning off Thanksgiving dinner?

Ignore them – regular overindulgence over a period of weeks or months can indeed affect weight and body fat, but Evan Matthews, assistant professor of Exercise Science and Physical Education, says overeating during a single meal won’t impact your body in a significant way.

Instead, make a plan to stay active throughout the winter – not just when you feel “guilty” for having a few too many glasses of eggnog. Here, Matthews shares tips on maintaining consistent physical activity during the colder months to balance out the big dinners, toasts and holiday treats.

Stay active but stay safe

  • When exercising outside, be sure to dress in layers. Remove one layer at a time as you feel hot – the goal is to be warm, but to avoid excessive sweating, which can increase the likelihood of hypothermia.
  • Avoid early morning or late evening workouts on cold days. This will allow you to exercise when the temperature is near the highest it will be during the day. Also attempt to avoid inclement weather like rain, snow and strong wind.
  • Follow safety protocols. Consider local and current COVID-19 guidelines before deciding to exercise indoors around other people.

Keep it simple

  • Work out at home. Investing in at-home exercise equipment will reduce the barriers to exercise associated with the “need to go to the gym” mentality.
  • No equipment? No problem. Cardiorespiratory and resistance exercise can include walking, running and bodyweight calisthenics.

Stick to a routine

  • Find an exercise buddy. Develop in-person or virtual social relationships around your exercise habits to promote exercise adherence.
  • Schedule it in. Adults should accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity cardiorespiratory exercise per week.

Think of the benefits to stay motivated

  • Good for the body… “Exercise is well known to improve physical health outcomes, including reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat and insulin resistance. These all decrease the likelihood or severity of many cardiometabolic diseases,” says Matthews.
  • …and the mind. Studies strongly suggest that exercise can “reduce anxiety and depression in everyone regardless of the severity of your symptoms,” he says. “In fact, cardiorespiratory exercise has proven to be as effective as psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy in treating depression. Exercise can also be used in conjunction with other mental health treatments to improve anxiety and depression, including conditions like seasonal affective disorder.”