Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the holiday season? You are not alone. This winter will layer pandemic anxiety on top of holiday tension and cold weather challenges, all of which can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Unchecked stress can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease as well as increased anxiety and depression. In fact, in the 2020 Fitness Index, 30% of residents in the largest 100 U.S. cities have high blood pressure and 38% reported poor mental health. Adding seasonal stress to that mix is not a winning recipe.
A key (and free) way to reduce stress and anxiety is to be physically active. Research tells us even small amounts of activity can help reduce stress, enhance your mood, improve sleep and even strengthen your immune system – something we can all use during this pandemic. Even a 30-minute brisk walk provides immediate immune benefits that can last for several hours afterwards. Every active minute counts and can add up to better health.
What counts as physical activity? A lot actually! You do not have to prove you are an Ironman champion and go all out over the holidays. Moderate-intensity activities that allow you to talk, but not sing, during the activity are an ideal place to start. Walk the dog. Dance with your partner. Play catch with your kids. Ride your bike to the store. Even household chores like raking leaves, vacuuming and lifting laundry baskets will rack up activity minutes. Looking for a structured workout option? Check out this video playlist of free workouts from ACSM’s International Health & Fitness Summit.
Want more out of your activity? Take it outside. Being active in nature amplifies the reduction in stress and anxiety and reduces blood pressure. Walk down a tree-lined street, be active in your backyard or find a local park or green space. Be sure to treat nature gently – stay on designated trails, take your trash home with you and leave plants and animals exactly where you see them.
Looking to give back while being active this holiday season? There are many Virtual Walk/Run/Roll options that benefit charitable organizations across the country.
It would not be 2020 if we did not talk about COVID-19. Be safe when you are active away from your home. Keep your distance (at least six feet) from people outside of your household and wear a face covering over your nose and mouth if others are too close.
From all of us at the American Fitness Index, we wish you happy and healthy holidays!