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man exercising using resistance bands

Should you work out before Thanksgiving dinner?

There are many benefits to fitting in a workout the day of a big holiday meal—and they have nothing to do with burning calories or “earning” your food.

“I think individuals should enjoy their holiday meals without the stress of exercising to ‘earn the calories,’” says Asher Ezzard, EP, a Piedmont exercise physiologist. “Humans are made to move, and exercise has many positive effects on your mental and physical health.”

The immediate upsides of moving your body before or after a decadent meal include:

  • Better blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity. Regular physical activity is essential to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is balanced, you’ll feel more satisfied with your meals and maintain steady energy levels.

  • Better mental health. Exercise has been shown to boost feel-good hormones called endorphins and improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

  • Lower blood pressure.

  • Improved sleep.

  • Clearer thinking and judgment.

Research also suggests exercise can boost your immune function, which is essential during cold and flu season.

With long-term consistency, the benefits of exercise include:

  • Increased muscle mass. Adults begin to lose muscle mass around 35, but regular strength training can combat this loss. Having healthy muscle mass can boost your metabolism, reduce your risk of falls and injury, and help your recover faster from injuries and illnesses.

  • Improved heart health. Regular exercise can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

  • Stronger bones.

  • Lower risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer.

The best exercises to do during the holidays

“During the holiday season, it’s easy to relax and not take your regular training routine seriously,” says Ezzard. “While I do agree that it’s OK to enjoy yourself during the holidays, I also believe you should continue moving and find ways to be active with family and friends.”

As a powerlifter, Ezzard is a proponent of weightlifting to boost your strength and muscle mass. If you don’t have access to weights, consider picking up some lightweight and affordable resistance bands to strengthen your muscles on the go.

He’s also a fan of walking—it’s a great way to reduce stress and boost your heart health. If the weather isn’t optimal where you live or visit or you don’t have a safe place to walk, consider:

  • Walking laps around the mall.

  • Following an at-home walking video on YouTube.

  • Meeting a friend at a nearby park.

Other travel- and schedule-friendly options include:

  • Online workout classes on YouTube or your favorite workout app. If you’re on the go, search for equipment-free options.

  • Participate in a “turkey trot” or other holiday-themed 5K.

  • Meet a friend for a walk instead of coffee or lunch.

  • Sign up for a class at a nearby fitness or yoga studio if you’re visiting a new city and the studio is open.

  • Jump rope or play hopscotch, basketball or tag with the kids in your family.

  • Turn up the music and have a dance party.

  • Go for a hike or trail ride at your nearest nature trail.

And invite your loved ones to join you!

“Make it fun,” says Ezzard. “Do things you know your family loves or create new traditions around the holiday season that include exercise.”

Practice gentle consistency with exercise

Finally, do your best to let go of all-or-nothing thinking. You don’t have to maintain a perfect exercise routine to reap the mental and physical rewards. And you definitely don’t need to “work off” that slice of pumpkin pie. What matters most is being consistent and taking care of your body.

“Please be kind to yourself,” he says. “Your relationship with exercise is much more important than how you exercise.”

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