Fit for the festive season

Feeling overwhelmed by the festive season? Lisa Yates and Fiona Ross have a fitness plan to empower you to make your holiday memorable for all the right reasons.

As if juggling the responsibilities of life with young children isn't hectic enough, the festive season has a way of making mothers feel busier and more anxious than usual. As you're rushing around making holiday plans, shopping, planning family events, with a seemingly endless array of obligations and commitments, it's easy to let the things that help you to de-stress simply fall off of your to-do list. Exercise, relaxation, and even sitting down to read a book are the first items to be abandoned in the quest to get everything done. The irony is, exercise is one of the best ways to help you deal with stress, not to mention its many other benefits (weight loss, improved muscle tone, increased cardiovascular fitness, improved core strength and spinal stability, reduced stress, and enhanced sleep patterns, not to mention improved posture, increased energy, and enhanced self-esteem!).
     Besides the increased activity and stress levels of the holiday season, there's a constant supply of chocolates, gingerbread, mince pies, home baking, and rich meals to completely wreck any semblance of healthy eating. The result of all this overindulgence coupled with lack of me-time and exercise? You're feeling frumpy, frazzled, and more than a little terrified at the thought of squeezing into a swimsuit. What's a mum to do?

Make yourself a priority
Unless you believe that you're worth it, you'll continue to put your own needs last. This Chistmas, give yourself the gift of time and promise yourself that you'll make a little bit of time every day for exercise. Even if this means getting up 20 minutes earlier, or cutting back on the post-meal flop-down-in-front-of-the-TV experience, the results will be worthwhile.

Start as you mean to go on
Whether you are already a regular exerciser or not, heading into the festive season with a plan will set you up to succeed. This time of year can bring even the most orderly of people to a crisis point. The saying "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" is so true. There are very few people who just happen to look and feel fantastic without some sort of plan. Sit down tonight and write down your health and fitness plan for the next few months.
     If you are not already exercising regularly, then now is the time to start! Try something easy and functional, such as a walk or cycle for 20-30 minutes three to four times a week. It is best to start gradually and build up slowly, rather than establishing unachievable goals and setting yourself up for failure. Find a friend to encourage you and to help you stay accountable. For further ideas on how to get started, see "Fitting in fitness"
     And remember, if you are pregnant, post-natal, or you haven't exercised in a little while, then do check with your health care professional before commencing a new exercise programme.

Find something you like doing
Don't torture yourself on the elliptical trainer if you hate running - choose a form of exercise that you actually like! Check out exercise classes at your local swimming pool, gym, or community education centre. Don't force yourself to do something you don't enjoy, or you won't keep it up long enough to see results.

Consistency is the key to success
One of the most common reasons for women not achieving their fitness goals is lack of consistency. We often start out with amazing exercise plans and unrealistic goals. When young children are added to the picture, things never really go to schedule, and the first thing to give is the two-hour gym workouts.
     When it comes to exercise plans for busy mothers, we are firm believers in the "little but often" approach. Too many women think that a 60-minute session once a fortnight counts as regular exercise. Most women (if they are honest) could find an extra 20-30 minutes five times per week. The most important thing here is that the exercise must be regular. It's perfectly okay to have an easy session if you're feeling tired one day, but do still make the effort to get out there and do it anyway. This approach works beautifully if you promise yourself the time and make exercise a necessity, not a luxury.

Everything in moderation
Regular exercise and healthy eating are vital to a healthy body and mind. But being overly obsessive about either of these things can prove to be unhealthy also. We like the 80:20 rule. Try and make sure you eat healthily and exercise well 80% of the time, and then give yourself a break 20% of the time, and do make sure you enjoy that Christmas pudding with no guilt attached!

The "perfect woman" is a myth
Once you've embarked on your lifestyle change incorporating healthy eating and regular exercise, here's another concept that's worth some thought. There really are no perfect people in this world, only perfect intentions. Even though we hear it all the time, very few women really seem to embrace this theory. Remind yourself regularly that it is okay not to be perfect. It is okay to have a day off from exercise. It is okay to eat cake and enjoy it (occasionally!). What is not okay is be overly-self critical and to expect perfection.
     The media bombards us with feminine images that aren't real. The models adorning glamourous advertisements are fantasies - airbrushed to the point of being a lie. Even before the touching up, many of these women diet and exercise to unhealthy extremes.
     Most women have cellulite. Real and healthy women have body fat. This is not to say that being overweight is healthy either, but make sure you aren't being too hard on yourself. Pregnancy and motherhood cause amazing life and body transformations. Avoid focusing entirely on what you look like. Instead, embrace the concept of good health, making this your focus. By coming to terms with this notion, you'll be sending out the right message to your children and helping them to develop into adults with good body image and well balanced self-esteem.

Hit the floor
The pelvic floor, that is! One in three women who has ever had a baby suffers from some sort of incontinence. Pelvic floor problems often cause women to stop exercising, and can lead to increased weight gain and depression. So don't forget to include pelvic floor exercises in your routine. Check out and click on "pelvic floor" to learn more about these vital exercises for all women.

Less is more
If keeping your family happy and healthy is a priority, then learning to say no will be necessary at times. Take a close look at your priorities. Write down all of your regular time commitments then scan the list. Which activities or commitments are most important? If you feel you are always running late and have no time to relax, then something has to go. Get ruthless. An amazing sense of freedom comes with simplifying your life.

Eat wonder foods
When it comes to feeling and looking your best, food is equally as important as exercise. We often treat our bodies with less respect than our cars! We pump our cars with super-optimum fuel, but feed our bodies sugar, pre-packaged snacks, and pizza, and then we're surprised they stop functioning at an optimum level. This fast-food approach to life might work for a short time, but eventually you'll be left feeling depleted and depressed. The more natural foods you consume, the more your body will thank you. By this we mean the foods that haven't been tampered with. Next time you are grocery shopping, take the outside aisle challenge. Spend most of your time on the outer aisles of the supermarket and less time in the processed inner areas (or avoid them altogether!)

Snack guilt-free
Snacks can make the difference between fitting or not fitting your favourite jeans. the trick here is not to avoid snacking, but to actually listen to your body. Try not to eat out of habit or just because you're stressed. Ask yourself the question, "Am I actually hungry?" If the answer is yes, then go for it - but try to make it something healthy: an apple, raw carrots, plain rice crackers (avoid the ones with MSG - flavour enhancer 621), skim-milk yoghurt, and small handfuls of nuts are wonderfully nutritious snacks that fit easily into your handbag when you're on the run.

Think ahead
At this time of year, the opportunities to overindulge are plentiful. Our best advice is to plan ahead. If you know you'll be out all night surrounded by tempting food, then make sure you don't go out hungry. Eat sensibly throughout the day, so you don't gorge on high-calorie treats later on. Alternate alcoholic drinks with soda water or mineral water, and both your head and your conscience will thank you the next day. Most importantly, make sure you take some time just to be. Enjoy this time of year with your family and don't be overly hard on yourself. Commit to giving your family the gift of time together and you'll be pleasantly reminded of what is truly most important in life.


Lisa Yates is a mother of two young girls and an experienced physiotherapist with a special interest in women's health. She is passionate about obstetric and continence pyhsiotherapy and is also a women's personal trainer and wellness coach. Together with Fiona Ross, she founded FiliFit to help nurture healthy lifestyles. The Core and the Floor ( is New Zealand's first post-pregnancy exercise programme designed by health professionals. This comprehensive DVD demonstrates everything you need to know to safely and effectively get in shape. Lisa and Fiona share a passion for educating and empowering women to "be the best they can be".