Don’t wait until New Years.
Make exercise a priority now!

Cammie Bates – MPhys, LAT, ATC

As I reflect on this year and look ahead to what is next, I can’t believe we’re already in the holiday season. The older I get, the more I realize how much there is to do between Thanksgiving and New Years and how self-care can fall off the radar if I don’t make it a priority.

The holiday season can feel like a sprint, and before you know it, it’s New Years.  There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, food to make, and traditions to enjoy. Then it’s time to make to make resolutions. Yet in all the hustle and bustle, you must continue to carry out daily obligations: jobs, household chores, and families to take care of. Some might even say the holidays are overwhelming and downright stressful. So while this season can bring so much joy and make happy memories, let’s not forget to slow down a little and make sure to take care of ourselves. For me, self-care means making exercise a priority now and not waiting until the New Year.

A study out of Texas Tech University found the average American gains 1.5-2 pounds during the holiday season. Over 10 years, this can lead to 20 pounds of added fat (DoveMed, 2015). While the study noted that exercise did not impact the amount of weight gained, it’s important to remember the many benefits exercise provides. Regular exercise helps combat the damaging effects of cortisol, which is released with stress and can be particularly high this time of year. Exercise increases blood circulation and brain activity, which helps to think more clearly. It positively impacts the hippocampus, which improves memory. Exercise also releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones. These endorphins can be essential during the holidays. So if you’re feeling really stressed, try some physical activity. It can really help.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to staying active during the holidays, but here are a few tips to work physical activity into the holiday routine without having to find an extra 1-2 hours a day at the gym.  Remember every little bit of movement helps.

  • Make gatherings active! Take everyone for a walk to see the holiday lights or go ice skating.
  • Park further away when shopping for presents or running errands to get in a few more steps.
  • Sneak in a quick workout while baking or cooking by using cans as weights or the counter for pushups. Cooking a turkey or ham? Those can be quite heavy and a great weight for some squats or lunges.
  • Try a holiday-themed run. Many are family-friendly.
  • If guests are coming over, clean the house for a quick workout. Turn on the music while you’re at it for an impromptu dance party.
  • Speaking of guests, encourage them to bring activewear so everyone can participate in physical activity, such as an after-meal walk or post-party yoga.
  • With the colder and darker weather, stay safe and warm with reflective layers and carry lights to make yourself visible.
  • If traveling, plan ahead to walk the airport during long layovers.  If driving, stop every few hours to stretch and move. Avoid vending machine and fast-food one your trip by packing healthy snacks, such as apples or almonds.

Remember, part of the joy of the holidays is a change from our normal routine. Missing a few workouts here and there won’t make you unhealthy. Eating a second helping or a few extra cookies won’t make you unhealthy.  The key is to not let a few days of indulgence turn into indulging the entire holiday season. Being active and eating well is a lifestyle, so enjoy the holidays!

The Poe Center’s Winter Wellness Challenge Chart

At the Poe Center, we’re in the middle of a simple, seven-week Winter Wellness Challenge. Staff are trying to get the USDA-recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week.  For the 25 participating, that means a total of 1050 minutes over the holiday season. It’s doable and reminds us that every little bit of activity helps. It helps not only physically, but also mentally.  And for me, that’s just as important during this holiday season.

Join us and make exercise a priority now, not only after the New Year.

Sport and Physical Activity to De-Stress the Holidays. SIRC

(2018). Healthier Holidays in 1 – 2 – 3!. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.

(2015). ‘Holiday Stuffing’ May Be Responsible For Annual Weight Gain‘. DoveMed.

(2011). Ways to be Active When the Whole Family Gets Together for the Holidays. SPARK

Classroom Activity: Re-energize Your Class

Adults are not the only ones who need to be active. In fact, the USDA recommends kids aged 6-17 should be engaging in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day (2018 Physical Activity Guidelines). The key to keeping youths active is to make it fun and have a variety of activities. Brain breaks or classroom energizers are 1-5 minutes and positively impact physical health, improve classroom behaviors, and leave students focused and ready to learn. Active kids learn better. Try these tips and energizers, and check out the websites below for more ideas.

  • When teachers participate in the activity, students are more likely to join. Get the entire school involved by encouraging the administration to play music after announcements to get everyone dancing.
  • Think about ways to incorporate inexpensive equipment such as bean bags, erasers, plates, yoga balls, etc.
  • Empower students to choose and lead the activities. Explore ways to get everyone involved.
  • Don’t forget simple activities such as balancing, stretching, or breathing exercises as a way to refocus and calm nerves, especially around test time.
  • Try the game 5-4-3-2-1. “In this simple game, students stand up, and the teacher (or leader) has them do five different movements in descending order. For example, the teacher would say: ‘Do five jumping jacks, spin around four times, hop on one foot three times, walk all the way around the classroom two times, give your neighbor one high-five’ (pausing in between each task for students to do it).” (Lynette 2012).
  • Consider the game “As If” for K-3rd graders. In this game, a teacher will read a statement and students will act it out. For instance: “Run as if a bear is chasing you. Jump as if you are popcorn popping” (Eat Smart Move More 2015).


(2017).  Classroom Energizers at School. Action for Healthy Kids.

(2012). “20 Three-minute brain breaks.” Lynette, Rachel.

(2015). K-5th Classroom Energizers. Eat Smart Move More.

 Classroom Crio Lesson

The Poe Center has partnered with SAS through Curriculum Pathways to provide online access to health science and health education lessons at no cost to teachers across the State of North Carolina. Designed to complement its health education curriculum, the Poe Center’s programs and online content are aligned with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Healthful Living and Science Essential Standards.

Play Hard, Stay Fit

Grade Level: 2nd – 3rd grade
Program Length: 15-45 minutes

Play Hard Stay Fit is an online course aimed at equipping 2nd and 3rd-grade students with skills and abilities to make healthy physical activity and eating choices. Students will examine the question “What is exercise?” and learn to understand what it means to treat your body in a healthy way. Students will engage in online activities to discover their personal likes and dislikes, learn to make healthy decisions, explore how physical activity benefits every aspect of their lives, and better understand the risks of making unhealthy decisions. Check out our library of Crio courses today!

 Poe Program: “FITT” for Life

Grade Level: 4th – 5th
Program Length: 60 minutes

You’ll feel great after taking this program as we introduce the importance of regular physical activity. Participants will experience the balance between eating and exercise while reinforcing the benefits of an active lifestyle. This program introduces the different levels of exercise as well as the components of a good athlete. We encourage participants to make a lifelong commitment to their health.

The Poe Center offers over a wide variety of nutrition and physical activity programs for all ages. Call 919-231-4006 or go online to plan a program.