Is seasonal excess leaving you feeling a bit ‘bleurgh’? Try these expert-backed tips for staying fit and well between Christmas and the new year.
Are you planning to spend Twixmas snuggled up on the sofa mainlining Quality Street with barely a second glance at your fitness tracker? There’s no judgment from us – fill your boots! The lull between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve is tailormade for doing absolutely jack-all if you so wish.
But if the mix of rich food and drink, lots of sitting down and being cooped up indoors has left you feeling like a pulled Christmas cracker, here are some simple ways to revitalise your wellbeing in time for the new year.
(Note: all purely optional – if ever there was a time for choosing a plate of mince pies on the sofa over working up a sweat, this is it!)
Your five-day Twixmas wellbeing routine
Day 1: off the sofa stretch
There’s a lot of sitting down over Christmas – watching TV, eating, playing board games, watching TV (again). Prolonged sitting can not only cause aches and pains, but research has linked sedentary behaviour to serious conditions such as diabetes, poor heart health and depression.
“When sitting down all day, it’s important to get up and get your body moving,” says fitness professional Haylene Ryan-Causer, founder of the Energy Studio at Volonté. “Stick mobility exercises are a great way to help loosen up your muscles, increase full body strength and reduce the risk of injury in everyday life.”
Try Ryan-Causer’s workout, where the only equipment you need is a pole (approximately one metre long). Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and complete 10 reps of each of the following:
- Hold the pole in front of you at shoulder height, with hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your arms straight, take the pole up, over and behind your head then back to the front (one rep).
- Grip each end of the pole, resting it at the base of your neck.
- Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and hinge to the right from the waist.
- Repeat the other side (one rep).
- Hold the pole straight out in front of you with hands shoulder-width apart.
- Rotate the shoulders one way, then reverse (one rep).
- Keeping legs and arms straight with hands wide, make a large circle with the pole from the front and around to the back, hinging at the waist (one rep).
- Take the pole with straight arms and hands wide, and hold it behind you on the base of your neck.
- Lift the pole straight up then down again (one rep).
Day 2: get outside
Being mid-winter, there’s a strong temptation to stay indoors. Even if you do manage a Boxing Day walk, it’s likely that most of the post-Christmas week is spent in a centrally heated home and you’ll barely glimpse natural daylight.
But lack of exposure to natural spaces can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health, as well as raise the risk of seasonal affected disorder (SAD). A study led by the University of Exeter concluded that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing – that’s just 24 minutes outside per day to aim for during the five days of Twixmas.
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For yoga instructor Aimee Strongman of Glow Yoga, a mindful outdoor jaunt is her go-to for self-care at Christmas. “Stepping into the outdoors awakens the senses and brings clarity and focus to the mind. The burst of cold air makes us breathe deeper, taking oxygen all around the body,” she tells Stylist.
“Just walk, ideally somewhere where you can embrace flora and fauna and get up close to nature. As you breathe, remember to make your exhale longer than your inhale as this allows the breath to work its magic. This moving meditation is one that not only reminds us of our position in life’s tapestry, but the time away will mean you walk back in fresh and uplifted, with a smile and a rosy glow.”
Day 3: beat the bloat with a classic pilates move
We’ve no problem with anyone eating their own body weight in roast potatoes (bring it on), but as a traditional Christmas diet doesn’t tend to include kale juice and kimchi, chowing down on a rich combination of foodstuffs can often leave us with sluggish digestion. Low-impact exercise, however, can help.
“Pilates is highly effective not only in targeting deep, transverse abdominal muscles but also to help stimulate and massage the digestive organs in the abdominal region,” explains Gaby Nobel, founder of Exhale Pilates London, who believes the twisting movements in this practice are a great way to aid digestion.
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Criss cross is a pilates move that targets your entire torso. “This exercise really tests all aspects of what pilates is all about, which is strength, stamina and control. It especially works the obliques and lower abdominal muscles. In this exercise, the powerhouse should be your core, not your spine,” explains Nobel.
How to do the pilates criss cross:
- Lie on your back with knees bent into your chest, hands behind your head, and elbows wide. Lift the head and shoulders.
- Extend your right leg, maintaining a flat back as you simultaneously twist your upper body reaching your right shoulder to your left knee. Look to your left elbow to increase the stretch.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Return to centre and repeat on the other side.
- Keep elbows wide, hips anchored and twist from the waist, not the neck.
- Aim for 5 to 10 sets.
Day 4: natural booze busters
We all know that the best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid alcohol altogether, but if those festive drinks get the better of you, the remedy may already be in your fridge or store cupboard.
“Alcohol can cause nausea for two main reasons – firstly, alcohol is a stomach irritant; secondly, the liver can become overwhelmed when attempting to process more alcohol than it can handle at once,” explains Chandni Vadgama, nutritionist at Holland & Barrett.
Vadgama recommends rehydrating by sipping a light smoothie containing a small amount of protein to raise sustainable blood sugars, chamomile tea to soothe the stomach or ginger tea to ease nausea.
Feeling hangry? “The sugars in alcohol can cause the body to produce too much insulin which can leave you nursing both a pounding head and feelings of hunger. Rather than a greasy fry-up, opt for porridge or muesli with dried fruit and sunflower seeds.
“This will help bring blood sugar levels back up and sustain it over several hours due to the mix of sugars and slow-burn starches. Sunflower seeds are also high in the amino acid cysteine, which supports liver function,” adds Vadgama.
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Day 5: spend time alone
Christmas for some is quiet and simple; for others, it is a social whirl. Time alone at some point over the season is important for centring yourself and bringing stillness to this busy period. And the good news is that studies have found even short meditations of 10 minutes or less are effective.
Yogi Hannah Barrett recommends this three-minute ‘connection meditation’ that helps you find alone time even if you can’t physically escape a room of people:
- Wherever you are, begin by making a change in your posture, lengthening through the crown of the head to instil a sense of awareness.
- Become aware of any sensations in your body, any thoughts or feelings. Be open to them all, and try not to change anything.
- Become aware of how you’re breathing. Notice where you feel the breath moving, how different parts of the body move and focus on that place.
- Tune into these sensations for a full inhalation, then tune in for a full exhalation.
- Finally, bring your awareness to the whole body, the space the body takes up and all sensations that come and go.
Bring on 2023!
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