Patricia Carswell |

How to stay fit in the festive season

Award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, shares her tips for training against all the odds over Christmas in her latest blog – Life on the River

There’s no getting away from the fact that staying fit in the festive season is a challenge.

There are so many factors conspiring against us. The frantic push to get desks cleared before the Christmas break. Last-minute shopping (what on earth do teenage nieces and nephews actually want?). Kids off school, fizzing with excitement and demanding to be entertained. Family obligations. Tables groaning with food and drink (the cheese, the cheese!)… Crewmates away, wrapped up in their own festive dramas. Plunging temperatures. And daylight making just the briefest of appearances before plunging us back into darkness. Small wonder that even the most determined person finds the usual regime ends up in tatters along with the Christmas wrapping paper.

During the last couple of years, however, I’ve managed to turn staying fit against the odds into a fine art, thanks to endless visits to sort out elderly parents. Somehow, despite staying in overheated houses, cramped rentals and kind friends’ holiday homes, I’ve found a way to stay in reasonably decent shape without the benefits of the river or the erg. And I’m here to help you do the same.

  1. Don’t get cross, get cross training

Yes, it might be frustrating that you can’t row, but if you’re prepared to get creative with your workouts, you’re much more likely to stick with it, and your body will benefit from some cross training. Take the brother-in-law’s bike for a spin. Pull your trainers on and venture out for a run. Try an online interval session – I’ve done HIIT sessions everywhere from the local park to the balcony of a rented flat to a parking space next to my car. And if it’s all getting too much (and let’s face it, it probably will at times), find a quiet corner and do some yoga until you can face the world again.

2. Forewarned is forearmed

If you’re spending time with friends or family, let them know in advance what your plans are. If you’re hoping for some long, bracing walks, make sure everybody’s got wellies or walking boots so there are no, “I haven’t got anything to wear” excuses. And if there’s anyone in the family likely to sabotage your efforts (we all know someone like that), get them used to the idea in advance and have strategies lined up to deal with them.

“Probably the single biggest obstacle to working out over the festive season is alcohol”

3. Get kitted up

You don’t need much kit to push your body to its limits. A pair of trainers and a bit of lycra will do, but you can supercharge your workouts with a set of resistance bands and a skipping rope, and these take up next to no room in your living room or your suitcase.

4. Watch the booze

Probably the single biggest obstacle to working out over the festive season is alcohol, and my goodness there’s a lot of it about. It’s hard enough hauling yourself out of bed to go for a run or leap around the living room without a hangover to hamper your efforts. Decide in advance what days you’re realistically going to get your exercise in and hold back a bit the night before, matching each boozy tipple with another glass of water, or offering to drive.

5. Relax

And finally, if it all goes pear-shaped and your best-laid plans are foiled, relax. You don’t actually have to stay fit. It might be that your body needs a rest from the endless activity. If fatigue is hovering at your back and your body is creaking, a break from exercise might be the best thing you can do for your fitness in the long term.

Let me know how you plan to stay fit (or not) over the festive season. And whatever happens, I hope you have a wonderful break. See you on the other side!