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Thanksgiving Fitness: How to Stay Active and Healthy During the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year are on the horizon. Which means most of us have more than a few big meals in the near future. After recovering from the Halloween candy craze (it seems like there are bowls of candy everywhere we look in October), the last thing you want to do is overindulge and slip away from your fitness goals.

In addition to more food, fall and winter months are darker and colder, which can make it even harder to maintain the fitness routine you spent all year building. Looking at the big picture, it’s easy to get stressed about weight gain and lost progress around the holidays, especially after Thanksgiving.

But don’t lose hope. You can enjoy your Thanksgiving feast, Christmas dinner, and New Year toasts confidently if you celebrate the right way.

And what is the “right way”? Celebrating with balance in mind. We want you to enjoy this time of year, without having to take a step back on your fitness journey.

The Thanksgiving Dinner Dilemma: Feast vs. Fitness

Thanksgiving Day starts and ends with food. There are turkeys, side dishes, and pies all waiting to fit in the oven (and get eaten by you later!) From morning to night, food is what we’re thinking about.

And if you're in the group of people who wait until Thanksgiving day to start decorating for Christmas, you might spend your day putting up the tree. Or perhaps you'll spend your day waiting in an absurdly long black Friday line so you get the best deals on your holiday wishlist.

In other words, Thanksgiving Day is busy for many of us.

But how good would it feel to sit down and eat a huge Thanksgiving feast after you've burned some calories? After all, exercise prepares us to eat (aren’t you usually hungry after a workout?) and aids digestion.

So if your holiday hustle usually takes away from your fitness hustle, we’ve got some ideas on how to find balance and stick to your guns this Thanksgiving.

Here are our favorite ways to practice Thanksgiving Fitness so you can enjoy your Thanksgiving Feast…

With Loved Ones

No matter how you get your Thanksgiving Fitness in, we recommend doing it with family and friends, or whoever your community is. Any holiday tradition that involves exercise will have a positive, lasting effect on your tribe. When we exercise together before we share an amazing meal, our relationships deepen and enrich.

And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

A Morning Walk, Jog, or Hike

Even if you could find time to stop at the gym while driving to the store for last-minute ingredients, many gyms close on Thanksgiving day (we trainers have to feast, too). That’s okay. Missing one day in the gym won’t break your progress. If you’ve been lifting weights or working with a personal trainer, you won’t lose any strength or fitness gains.

There are still ways you can get your heart rate up and burn some calories when the gym is closed on Thanksgiving. And why not get some fresh air while you do?

Take a morning walk, jog, or head to your favorite park for an autumn hike. This is a favorite of our clients and trainers for getting family and friends involved in fitness traditions around the holidays.

If you want to build strength while you walk or hike, wear a backpack with weight in it (any dumbbell will do). That’s called “rucking,” and it burns a ton of calories while strengthening your legs, shoulders, core, and back.

Finally, the best way to recover from a heavy meal isn’t to fall asleep on the couch. Get some exercise, even if it’s just a light walk around your neighborhood.

Home Workouts for Thanksgiving

If you can’t wrangle your family to get outdoors on Thanksgiving, plan a Thanksgiving home workout (with help from your personal trainer). With the right programming, you'll be surprised at how much you can sweat with minimal to no gym equipment.

If you normally use free weights and machines, plyometrics and bodyweight exercises will give your muscles unique challenges. Here’s a list of our favorites to include in your Thanksgiving workout:

1. Pushups

2. Planks

3. Squats (regular or jump squats)

4. Lunges

5. Mountain climbers

6. Burpees

With just a few exercises (like those listed above), you can create a circuit workout that lasts 15-30+ minutes, involving every muscle group in your body.

Sports and Team Events

Family football games are popular Thanksgiving pastimes. If tossing around a football isn’t your idea of a good time, kickball or basketball could bring some sweat and joy to your family gathering.

Even games like cornhole, sack races, and scavenger hunts keep the whole family up and moving, and are fun for everyone.

On Thanksgiving Day, encourage children to play games like Freeze Tag, Hide and Seek, and Simon Says to get them up and moving. Instilling some active traditions in your family’s younger generations is a holiday win.

A Balanced Thanksgiving Meal

While fitness and exercise prepare your body to enjoy your Thanksgiving feast and recover after, healthy holiday choices will minimize the work you need to do to get back on track.

Always start your meal with high-fiber greens (like a hearty salad) before enjoying starches and protein. Eating a big salad before the richer foods like potatoes, turkey, and stuffing will fill you up before you make your way to the denser foods. Filling up on low-calorie, nutrient-dense vegetables is a proven method to eating less of the heavier, sleep-inducing treats Thanksgiving is famous for (like grandma's famous pecan pie).

After eating a salad, make sure your plate isn’t all stuffing and gravy. Like the fiber mentioned above, protein is filling and usually contains fewer calories than stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sugary cranberry sauce. Lean turkey is a healthy protein that won’t send you into Thanksgiving regret. Pair turkey with vegetables like green beans and Brussels sprouts for a nutrient-dense meal. Is there any room left on your plate? That’s where the stuffing goes.

Finally, before moving on to dessert, take a 15-20 minute break. (There’s plenty of pie, don’t worry.) When you slow down, your stomach will signal your brain that it’s full. But this takes time! The faster you eat, the more food you’ll squeeze in before your stomach signals your brain to stop. Overeating is more likely to happen when we eat fast. So slow down, take some breaks between your turkey and dessert, and avoid the overconsumption that is so common on Thanksgiving.

Holiday Fitness Goals

Fitness goals are achievable during the holiday season, even with all the good food you’ll be eating. While we spend more time in November and December eating with family and friends, we don’t need to take two months off of healthy choices.

First of all, get with your personal trainer (send us a message here to get in touch with one of our qualified trainers) to discuss your goals and formulate a plan of attack. You don’t want to wander blindly into the holiday season, especially with all those cookies and pies around.

A good personal trainer will help you work out, sure, but they’ll also listen to your goals and use their experience to help you build the life you want.

Thanksgiving Fitness Is All About Achievable Goals

Choosing goals for yourself that are achievable is an important step to staying active and not falling behind during the holiday season. Thanksgiving is the perfect starting place to make sure you have systems in place that will help you stay on track with your goals and avoid falling into sedentary patterns and poor eating choices.

If your goals aren’t achievable, or if you’re not breaking them down into easy steps, you’re setting yourself up for setbacks. When we choose achievable goals over the massive, distant ambitions of our dreams, we take more steps toward victory and are easily inspired to keep going.

If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, you might get easily discouraged when you see the scale swing by only 1 or 2 fewer pounds. Instead, break your goals down into bite-sized pieces, like losing ten pounds over the next two months. This goal is more easily achieved, and therefore easier to focus on.

And focus is important.

When we’re frequently exposed to rich foods and drinks during the holidays, we must stay rooted in our goals and habits.

That’s what fitness is all about.

Discipline isn’t an accident, after all. You must prepare for the holidays with your overall health in mind. When we’re not worried about weight gain, losing progress, and slipping into bad habits, our holidays will be all the more enjoyable.

And if you do fall off the fitness train at any point during the holiday season, The Gym Connection is here for you. We’re open 7 days a week to offer you expert guidance and help you get back on track to living your best life. Because life needs you fit.

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