The Invisible Workout

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running-gift-shoppingWith the crazy rush of shopping, cooking, and cleaning, plus all of the food and treats people share at home and in the office, the holiday season is a very difficult time to stay fit. Who has the time to work out?

You do. If you follow the Invisible, Stress-Free Holiday Workout, you can get exercise and fresh air, gain energy, and reduce stress while you get your chores done. The secret is finding more energetic ways to accomplish your existing tasks.

My doctor once told me, “If you don’t have time to exercise, you need to make time to be sick.” When you calculate how much time you have to get things done, remember that exercise gives you more energy, while stress reduces your efficiency. You probably won’t have big chunks of time to go to the gym or take a half-day hike this time of year, but there are dozens of ways to squeeze a few minutes of exercise into your schedule even while you’re getting things done, and studies show this kind of “invisible” exercise can be almost as beneficial as more formal exercise.

Here are some ideas:

woman-bike“Run” Some Errands
It’s easy to drive everywhere, especially when you’re short on time, but it’s a real fitness killer. Also, once you factor in traffic, parking, and gassing up the car, it doesn’t save that much time. Besides, getting stuck in traffic is intensely stressful and very common due to bad weather and holiday shoppers.

Consider walking, biking, or even running to your various destinations. You may need to take more and shorter trips, but it pays off in excellent exercise, fresh air, and stress reduction. You may find yourself at small, interesting neighborhood shops instead of going to the same overcrowded mall.

If you do need to drive to the mall, park as far away as you can and circle the mall on foot before you go in. Or, take mass transit and get off a stop or two early.

Clean the House
This task is almost certainly on your “to-do” list. If you approach it energetically, you’ll feel much better about the condition of your house and sneak in a vigorous workout at the same time. Use old-fashioned elbow grease to give your house a rigorous deep cleaning. Instead of rushing the job, do it extra thoroughly—clean the oven, tackle those counters and floors, and move all the furniture when you sweep or vacuum. Sure it will take a little longer, but think of all the time you saved not going to the gym, and how good you’ll feel when the place sparkles.

Plus, household tensions can run high this time of year. I always save a couple of rough jobs—like scrubbing floors—for times that I’m especially frustrated.

Mature woman collecting leaves in gardenVisit a Friend
I remember one time years ago, before I began running, when my cousin Pat told me he was going to jog over to my house to hang out. I couldn’t believe it! Pat lived all the way across Portland, at least FIVE MILES away. That seemed impossible. Now it still feels long, but not at all crazy. Pat knew he was welcome to take a shower at our house, so he threw a couple things in his backpack and made his way over.

Hopefully you have friends who live a bit closer than that. Depending on the weather and your fitness, you might bike, walk, or snowshoe instead of running, but having a good friend at the end of the journey is a wonderful motivator. It’s a great way to drop off a present or holiday card. And you can usually get a ride back or take the bus.

Home Work
Outdoors, cast aside leaf and snow blowers—they’re noisy, polluting, and aggravating. Do yourself and your neighbors a favor by leaving it inside. A bamboo rake is cheap, elegant, quiet, and meditative. A snow shovel is, well, a great source of exercise. Maybe you can’t shovel your entire walk or rake the whole yard, but you can definitely do some of it. Share the chore with your partner. If you can, use a manual lawn mower for even more benefit.

Car dirty? Washing your car by hand doesn’t take much longer than driving to the car wash, plus you’ll save money and get a chance to chat with neighbors. Bonus: hand washing is no extra charge in your driveway!

And when it’s time to relax at the end of the day with a little TV, you can keep a weight next to the couch and sneak in some bicep curls or do a few pushups during the commercials.

Play Time
Young couple playing in the snowI know you’re very busy, but this is the most important item on your “to-do” list. Go dancing with your partner. Play with your kids in the park. Have a snowball fight! Don’t forget Fido: when you walk your dog, embrace the opportunity to spend quality time with your furry friend and get some fitness in.

Remember, all the seasonal chores, presents, and fancy meals that may be stressing us out are just ways to connect with our friends and family. If you take a few minutes to have fun with your loved ones before the big holiday meals, you’ll have already taken care of your most important task.

Always consult with your healthcare professional before starting a new health or exercise regime.

Mark Saltveit lives in Portland, where he writes about sports, Taoism, and palindromes.


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