Running up to Christmas
Need I remind you it’s only 9 days to go until the big day with the ‘to do’ lists reaching epic proportions. Done your cards? Dreading the Post Office queues? The elusive parcel not arriving, or the boiler packing up on Christmas Eve? Plus if the credit card’s groaning under the strain of another purchase, not to mention the food order, present wrapping, teacher’s gifts and Christmas hat my 8 year old son apparently needs by tomorrow, this time of year has its challenges as well as its magic. As most women agree, it’s down to us to make Christmas happen, so it’s not surprising when we do get the chance to relax, we’re tempted to eat and drink to levels only worthy of truly great people. So more than ever in December we need to make exercise our new best friend to help us through the dark days.
This week, although the temperature’s been challenging most mornings, we’ve managed to run. It’s felt freezing, difficult to warm up, and icy underfoot, but with a good pair of trainers and breathable layers, it’s been fantastic to be out, fortunate to see the sun as much as humanly possible in Britain in December. Millions of us see no natural sunlight at this time of year, but, if you possibly can get outdoors for a quick fix of Vitamin D, it will pay dividends for your mood and your effectiveness.
This morning was one of the coldest mornings of 2012, and big numbers turned up in the Park for our fitness class. Several seriously impressive people even wore shorts. Within 10 minutes, others were in statement-making hard core sleeveless tops. And the admiration they got from ski-gear wearing passers-by was well worth it! The premise being that, if you exercise hard enough, and stay working at a high intensity, you really can be outdoors in sub-zero temperatures wearing not very much but your exercise smile.
Those in shorts had been out the night before for a ‘Christmas curry’, and whilst they weren’t necessarily at full pace, they were certainly burning off some of the damage done. And the thing that impressed me the most was that they’d clearly discussed coming to the class during their night out. In spite of hangovers and freezing temperatures, they stuck to their decision and got out there. And that’s the attitude you need, especially in the build-up to Christmas when big nights out, liquid lunches and calorie clad festive food are everywhere you turn. Because, if you’ve worked hard all year to improve your fitness, don’t let it all go belly-up (or out) in December.
The way to handle not only the stress of Christmas, but the indulgences, is to counter-act the onslaught on a regular basis. If you ‘go large’, then just accept that you need to pay back, rebalance and ‘go large’ on the exercise front to compensate afterwards. And yes that takes self-discipline and motivation, but it’s not impossible. I know that when you’re feeling jaded or bloated from partying the previous night, then running is possibly the last thing you fancy, but if you get out there, it will clear your head, give you renewed energy and help you recover from the excesses so much quicker than if you instead get familiar with the sofa or the chip shop.
Everyone who I’ve worked out with this week said how good they felt afterwards. Most people revealed they had so many tasks to do, their festive filled minds were on overload. They felt they really should have been doing these things, but sometimes we feel so overwhelmed and exhausted at this time of year, we end up doing none of them. And that’s precisely why running can help. To go for a run does take time, planning and motivation, but it should pay dividends in the long term, because the mental clarity and feel good we get as a result of exercise is significant.
Recent studies have shown that people who engage in aerobic exercise – at least two days a week – have better concentration levels than non-exercisers. By flooding the brain with oxygen, raising dopamine levels, (which are crucial to concentration) and relieving stress, exercise naturally jump starts the brain. Use it to your advantage – when you’re having trouble concentrating or feel like you’ve got a confused mind – get some exercise. You’ll immediately feel more alert and no doubt will be able to achieve so much more of your ‘to do’ list than if you did no exercise at all. Equally, the amount of calories you can burn in an hour of intense exercise (about 600) means that you can enjoy eating and drinking more of what you want at Christmas without gaining too much excess. Treating your body like a maths equation means that you just need to balance up what goes in with what’s got to go!
Sounds good? I tell you it is. It’s also fantastic to find that clothes fit, feel and look good. But most importantly you’ll feel in control, with the things that would normally totally stress you out at this time of year, actually seeming quite manageable (for a while at least).
Yet perhaps I should write more on this topic after a big night out myself, because, the only down side of being fit, is that going out for a few drinks means that the alcohol takes effect fast. Which I’m not saying is always such a bad scenario.