Maintaining a fitness routine can get hard over the holidays. Thankfully, there are lots of tools and tips to keep you motivated.

The holiday season is about a lot of things. Food, loved ones, and super snuggly sweaters. But exercise? Not so much. Even hardcore fitness fanatics might lose their motivation over the holidays. However, there are lots of fun and effective ways you can stay motivated all winter long.

Here are five holiday fitness tips to help keep you in good elf, erm, health. 😉

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Photography by Brat Co/Stocksy United

Here are five fitness tips to help keep you motivated over the holidays:

  1. Figure out what inspires you
  2. Adjust your expectations
  3. Workout with others
  4. Switch up your routine
  5. Give yourself a present

Keep reading for the deets on each.

If you know what motivates you, you can surround yourself with it. That might be a bunch of holiday fitness quotes stuck to your fridge. It might be an 80s hair metal playlist. Inspiration is different for everyone.

Making even small adjustments to your environment and the media you consume can help. In a 2021 study, researchers looked at the #fitspiration Instagram trend. This was widely reported to have a negative impact on self-image and body satisfaction, particularly among women.

Women interpreted a self-compassion message far more positively. Meanwhile, men responded best when there was no text caption at all.

That said, you might want to look in detail at how you’re pumping yourself up if you feel unmotivated.

According to a 2021 study, people tend to prefer exercise over leisure activities (e.g. watching Netflix) because of a perceived reward. The idea is that if we feel better, we look better. The sense of accomplishment is sufficiently greater than the pleasure we’ll get from rewatching another five comfort episodes of The Office.

During the holidays, the pleasure of not exercising increases dramatically. You’re not binging old shows, you’re connecting with loved ones and exchanging joy. The perceived reward of exercising might seriously struggle to outweigh all that.

You’re basically bartering with yourself here. Don’t be afraid to compromise a little. It’s fine to skip a gym session if it falls on the same day as your office party. If you’re traveling to see family and can’t get to the gym, don’t stress about it.

Exercising in groups has been shown to enhance our enjoyment and perceived benefit from working out. If you’re a solo fitness type and you find your inspiration wavering over the holidays, joining a group in the short term might help.

There’s more than one type of motivation. Autonomous motivation is when we inspire ourselves, we self-start. Controlled motivation is when there’s outside pressure encouraging you to do something… like an exercise group. Research shows controlled motivation can help folks stick to their regular fitness routine.

Here are some examples of group motivation:

  • join a yoga class
  • go to a gym that offers group classes
  • use a fitness app that has a social component
  • go on daily walks with a friend, roommate, or family member

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. Since our motivation to exercise is driven by perceived reward, exactly how we perceive that reward is important. Doing the same workout that you’ve been doing all year risks feeling stale, thus less rewarding.

Changing up your exercise routine turns it into a fresh new set of accomplishments. That means plenty of dopamine hits to counter the seductive lure of the couch. Maybe there’s a new class you’ve been meaning to take or a new muscle group to target. Now is the time.

Hey, it’s the holidays. While you’re busy bringing good cheer to others, don’t forget to treat yourself. This is especially true if you’re managing to stick to some kind of exercise routine. Because even a slightly reduced workout schedule will do a lot to mitigate the seasonal health impact.

It’s important to make sure exercise stays fun throughout the festive period with incentives like this. Some evidence suggests when we’re in a good mood and our dopamine levels are high, we receive rewards more positively.

When dopamine levels are low, we respond better to guaranteed exchanges. We want to know that, we’ll get something for our efforts. That’s not the ideal mindset for exercise, it’s risk and reward that gets the blood pumping.

The holidays are for having a good time and celebrating (or commiserating) the year. That’s not more important than your health, but you don’t need to choose between partying and fitness.

Maintaining the motivation to exercise lets you enjoy the holidays without worrying as much about that January turkey gut. Sure, it can be tough to tear yourself away from the stuffing and go to the gym, but you’ll thank yourself later.