How To Keep Running Over The Holidays
With the holidays fast approaching, you may be feeling stressed about your winter training. Cold weather, lack of daylight, obligations with family and friends, and the abundance of good food and drink decreases training motivation during this time period. Listed below are tried-and-true tips for sticking with your running routine over the holiday season.
Running as a Preventative Measure
Who doesn’t imbibe in an extra drink here or there during the holidays? The effects of alcohol on the brain are well known, and even a moderate amount can kill brain cells1. As recently reported in the New York Times, aerobic exercise (such as running) can prevent the damage caused by alcohol. The article details cutting edge, unpublished research that was presented at November’s Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.
The first study was reported by physiologists from the University of Louisville. Rats were given injections of either salt water or alcohol every day for 12 weeks. For each group, half of the rats were exercised strenuously on a treadmill, while the other rats lived sedentary lives. At the end of the 12 weeks, the brains of the rats were examined. The rats that received alcohol and also exercised had strong mitochondria, which provide energy to cells throughout the body. When mitochondria are strong, less cell death in the brain is recorded. Indeed, the rats that were exercised while also given alcohol had as many neurons as the control groups (i.e. the rats that were given salt water instead). As for the rats that were given alcohol and no exercise? These animals had up to 20% fewer neurons in their brain than the other 3 groups.
In the second study, researchers from the University of Houston provided female rats with dosages of either alcoholic or nonalcoholic substances once per week for 11 weeks. Of each group, half were exercised on wheels for up to 2 hours per day, 3 days per week. The second half were kept idle in a cage. As in the study at the University of Louisville the alcohol-consuming, exercising rats showed vast differences in the brain versus the rats that were kept idle.
This phenomenon is thought to be due to neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells. Running2 has recently been connected to neurogenesis, much to the delight of exercise physiologists. While this does not mean you should feel free to binge drink just because you went for a run, it does mean that you can use these facts as extra motivation to get out the door after your late-night holiday party!
Ditch The Calorie Counting
Some people use holiday running as a way to atone for overindulgence. However, this approach simply promotes unhealthy habits and leads to resentment towards the holidays, will power, and exercise. Instead, enjoy the holiday fare and run because you want to, not because you feel it is necessary for offsetting calorie consumption.
Catch Up with Old Friends
© The Huffington Post
One of the best ways to ensure you will run is to ask someone to meet you. Not only will you be able to spend time with friends you may not have otherwise seen, but you will be guaranteed to run. If you don’t know anyone who runs a similar pace as you, arrange to both start and finish at the same location and get coffee afterwards.
Running should never feel like a chore, especially not during the holidays. Schedule fun activities, such as a holiday light tour or ugly sweater run, through your neighborhood. Events such as these will help you be social while also providing a great excuse for exercise.
Create a Mantra
Another way to ensure you are able to motivate yourself to run during the holidays is to create a mantra for the season. As Runner’s World reported in 2011, the power of mantras is real. These phrases help your brain create laser-like focus and achieve tasks, both in training and racing. For instance, you might tell yourself, “training is a privilege” if you are working towards a specific race and are struggling to go for your Sunday long run on Christmas morning. Find a phrase or song lyric that speaks to you, and repeat it whenever you’re having a difficult time finding motivation.
Scheduling races during the holiday season is another great way to avoid sabotaging your training. Local 5k and 10ks add an extra level of training motivation, and at the very least ensure you will show up on race day in order to avoid losing your money. Common races during the holidays include cross country, jingle bell runs, and New Year’s Day resolution runs.
A Slow/Short Run is Better than No Run
The holidays can easily become stressful and busy, leaving little energy and time for running. However, it is important to remember that even a slower or shorter run than normal is still better than no run at all. From a cardiovascular standpoint, even 5 – 10 minutes of exercise provides tangible benefits. If time is the limiting factor, simply increase your intensity while running fewer miles.
Hire a Coach
If you need someone to hold you accountable, consider hiring a coach. Many running coaches offer monthly coaching services, which can be the perfect amount of time for helping you stick to your goals. Look for a coach that will check in with you regularly in order to best stay motivated.
Create a Holiday Tradition
Set Reasonable Goals
One reason people fail to meet their fitness goals over the holidays is that they set too high of standards. Psychologists have long known this to be true, and insist that the secret to achieving big goals is to set easily attainable small goals instead. For instance, don’t plan to run your highest mileage week ever during the holidays, as you will likely be setting yourself up for failure. Choose 3 – 5 small tasks, such as completing 30:00 of core work once per week, running 30- 60 minutes per day, and completing strides twice per week. By paring down your work out to-do list you will be more likely to accomplish your goals, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed and ignoring them completely.
Run in the Morning
Even if you are not a morning runner, plan to complete your running first thing. Holiday lunches, work parties, and last minute shopping can all sabotage your plans for running at lunch or after work. Sitting down with a planner and scheduling your runs ahead of time can also help you stick to this routine. If morning running truly isn’t your thing, define daily rewards for yourself every time you accomplish your goal, such as a special holiday treat.
1. Harper C. The neuropathology of alcohol-specific brain damage, or does alcohol damage the brain? J Neuropath Exp Neur. 1998;57:101–110. doi: 10.1097/00005072-199802000-00001. Link
2. Henriette van Praag, Gerd Kempermann, Fred H. Gage. Running increases cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the adult mouse dentate gyrus. Nature Neuroscience 2, 266 – 270 (1999) doi:10.1038/6368 Link