Dave, my writer/walker friend, and I have been emailing about the challenges and benefits of getting through the holidays with your fitness intact. One phenomenon he’s experiencing is that other people want to pull him off his walking program for the holidays — essentially labeling him a “fanatic” for sticking with it! Personally, I suspect projected guilt:

Also, one I’m experiencing is the “religious zealot” experience during this time of year. I try to schedule my day so I can walk or workout each day. I’m starting to get things like, “It’s the Christmas season. You can let it slide for a couple of days” or “You can work out harder after the first of the year.” This is a common thought when I choose to leave a gathering at a decent hour, so I can get up early to walk/work out.

Fortunately, Dave’s family is supportive, and he’s a determined guy.

Here’s the thing: These people are wrong! (and their attitudes won’t serve them very well when they try to stick with their own exercise New Years resolutions). One of the changes that made me able to exercise for five years running was that I finally accepted the fact that exercise, more than any other activity, requires daily input (I’m including rest days here). I can write both my weekly blogs in one day if I want, or a month’s worth in one very long day. But I can’t do four hours of exercise on Sunday and be done for the rest of the week. That’s simply not how our bodies work. In order to be successful with it, I had to finally work within reality, which is to say, I had to learn to plan days and times ahead to do it each week. (Though for the record, “binge writing” is a problem just like binge exercising, and leads to writer’s block.)

If you look at my planner (I still use a paper one, and sometimes think I will until Franklin-Covey wrenches the thing from my hands; everything else in my world is electronic and modern, even my grocery list, but I can’t stop penciling things in; and this is how I know Generation X is growing old like everybody), you will see my exercise for the day, or the word “Rest,” penciled in on each calendar date for the coming week. I take into account the plan or goal I’m working on, the daily weather forecast on my weather.com app, and the other events in my schedule, and write it out every single week.

When I do my exercise, I get a “check” by it. I loooove my checks.

This is how I’ve kept from falling off in December, or whenever a time is challenging. I lower my expectations — but just not to zero.

This year, not only was I tired of the long running workouts (in-the-rain), but I knew I wouldn’t fit them in. So I selected a 3-week plan called “The Best Sports Workout” I found appealing from The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises that has me in the gym Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. I strength train for 30 to 40 minutes in circuits to keep my heart rate up, then add 15-20 minutes cardio on the Spinning bike or treadmill. My weekends are free, and if I have an event during the week, I plan the hour around it. If I want something to do on an off-day, I walk. (At times when my schedule is even more constrained, I do less than an hour, and/or I do it at home.)

This isn’t going to keep me in racing shape, but it’s going to keep me in shape to return to racing shape. It’s also going to give me a mental break from racing, and shore up weaknesses that running doesn’t address.

I also don’t know how I would survive emotionally without my exercise fix. I don’t know how anyone does, or how I ever did before. Things are, let us say, not totally going the best right now in all aspects of my personal life, and I tend to hit an accumulated wall of anxiety and spiraling thoughts by late afternoon. Exercise is what saves my ass. That’s another reason the gym has worked better lately, being around people instead of long, lonely runs by myself. Studies show regular exercise is as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression. That’s pretty impressive, considering the negative side-effects and expense of drugs, vs. the positive side-effects of exercise! Some of my off-days I still take a walk or do mild cardio just for the effect on my psyche.

Dave has mentioned, also, how exercise can help balance overindulgent holiday eating, so that the effects are mitigated. Like everyone, I have an eating plan lined up for the first of the year, but I’m not restricting myself from chocolate over the holidays! That would be cruel. But exercise burns up extra calories and also keeps me craving healthier types of foods overall. I also got better with holiday meals once I started thinking of Thanksgiving, for example, as a “turkey dinner,” and not a food fest. Turkey dinners are healthy! I just have small amounts of stuffing and pie on the side.

(In the same vein, I would not suggest anyone start an exercise plan during the holidays — that would just be setting yourself up for failure! I’ll talk more about New Years soon! Or that we don’t all have weeks where we necessarily fall off — I’ve been off as many as three or four in a row with the flu or injury. It’s to say that, ultimately, your exercise needs to become part of your daily life and not a special occasion itself.)

I suppose Dave could make another excuse about why he’s leaving the party, but should he have to? He’s the one doing the admirable thing. And he’s also doing a completely reasonable thing, given how our bodies respond to exercise. If there’s one thing I wish I could stop in people’s mindset, it’s the idea that “getting into shape” is something you can do in a couple weeks or months, just pick up and put down again, so it’s no big deal to postpone it for another day.