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Increase exercise over the holidays to offset overeating

Before you reach for that second helping of pumpkin pie, consider this: The average American adult gains between 2 and 12 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

For several years, my own scale tipped eight pounds to the right after every holiday season, and those pounds are difficult to lose. Instead of vowing to work it off later, the best bet to beating holiday weight gain is to avoid it altogether.

This might sound impossible, particularly because travel, parties and hosting houseguests guarantee a disruption to your routine. But maintaining your weight during the holidays can be easier, more fun and more family-friendly than you might imagine. It just takes some creativity.

At Hoag’s Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center, we advise our patients to increase the frequency and/or intensity of their exercise during the holidays to help curb weight gain during the three-week period in which grandma is plying them with pie.

One way to do this is to insert exercise into family gatherings: Get the entire crew to take a walk or go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt between dinner and dessert, challenge relatives to an after-dinner “Dance Off,” or even propose to vigorously clean your host’s house (who would decline that offer?).

Wherever you spend the holidays, the local Chamber of Commerce will likely know of sponsored events, such as 5K runs, that can get the whole family moving. Walking around well-appointed neighborhoods to check out the holiday decorations is also a good alternative to gathering around the TV in a collective food coma.

Volunteer to take the dog to the dog park. Go ice skating. Recruit nieces and nephews for a game of flag football or soccer. These activities not only get the heart rate going, they create lasting memories.

If your holiday plans keep you in Orange County, our great weather and many tourist attractions offer ample opportunities to walk. On a recent trip to Downtown Disney, my mother-in-law’s pedometer registered 4,000 steps in just two hours. A family trip the mall can turn into a fun mini-workout: Park far from the entrance, walk briskly between stores and return to the car frequently to drop off packages.

Even if TV figures prominently in your family’s holiday traditions, institute commercial fitness breaks. You can turn this into a healthy competition between family members with incentives for the most repetitions.

If your relatives “bah-humbug” all your suggestions and insist on sitting through the holidays, try isometric exercises that can be done anywhere: Sit up straight and do repetitions of tightening your abdominal muscles and glutes. By the time Virginia learns there is a Santa Claus, you’ll have gotten in a great workout!

Whatever you do, try not to be sedentary. Hit up the hotel gym, do sit-ups before sunrise, pack some resistance bands in your luggage and make use of this easy, portable workout device. After all, exercise improves your sense of well-being and reduces stress during these hectic winter days. So by keeping your blood pumping, you will not only help curb weight gain, you are much more likely to truly enjoy a happy holiday season.

Denise Wachman is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator for the Mary & Dick Allen Center for Diabetes at Hoag Hospital.