The United States is poised to consume a whopping 51,650,000 turkeys during Thanksgiving. With each turkey coming in at 13,878 calories (771 calories per pound of meat), that is a heck of a lot of excess calories—and we haven’t even gotten into the side dishes.
The average American consumes about 3,500 calories during a Thanksgiving meal and according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, it breaks down like this:
- Annual consumption of turkey by the average American is 16 pounds.
- Annual tons of green beans produced is 659,340 tons.
- Pounds of sweet potatoes produced annually is 2.4 billion pounds.
- Total barrels of cranberries produced annually is 7,600,000 barrels.
Sure, not all of those are consumed in just that one festive meal but an awful lot are and when you indulge in large meals like this, aside from derailing your fitness goals, some pretty scary health issues can follow. Researchers have actually found that there’s an increase in your risk of dying from a heart attack after indulging in a hefty meal. Yikes!
Let’s face it though, you’re probably going to have at least one big meal on Thanksgiving Day (and likely another later in December), potentially along with larger amounts sitting on your butt consuming more alcohol than you normally do.
With gyms closed, what are some things you can do to maximize your calorie burning potential and limit the damage from all that excessive eating?
So, with most gyms closed, what are some things you can do to maximize your calorie burning potential and limit the damage from all that excessive eating? How will you keep your fitness, weight loss, or just plain good health in check during this monstrous eating time?
A few years ago the Get-Fit Guy tweeted, “The Average American eats about 3,000 to 3,500 calories during Thanksgiving. That’s 14,500 jumping jacks!” Thankfully, over the years the Get-Fit Guy dynasty has revealed that there are better, faster, and more fun ways to burn calories than doing thousands of jumping jacks. I’m going to round them up for you in this one helpful location.
9 Thanksgiving Exercise Tips
- Tip #1: The 6-Minute Boost
- Tip #2: Shiver
- Tip #3: The Best Workout for Fat Loss
- Tip #4: Grease the Groove
- Tip #5: Use 10-Minute Workouts
- Tip #6: Use Some Body Weight Moves
- Tip #7: Plan Ahead!
- Tip #8: Don’t Stress Out
- Tip #9: Don’t Give In
Let’s dive deeper into each exercise tip.
Tip #1: The 6-Minute Boost
Sure, an after-dinner stroll certainly doesn’t burn many calories (though it is better than sitting on the couch with your feet up), but a recent study proved that a brief 6-minute bout of movement before a big meal is a pretty darn effective way to improve blood sugar control.
The study showed that an intense 6-minute walk (such as jogging or walking up a very steep hill) done 30 minutes before a big meal significantly improved the subject’s glycemic response to the meal and since surges in blood sugar can lead to dastardly unwanted deposits of belly fat, this is good news!
You can also try this 6-minute trick by going up and down a set of stairs, doing burpees, bodyweight squats, and sure, even jumping jacks will do the trick. Just keep it to six minutes instead of 14,500.
Tip #2: Shiver
The Get-Fit Guy hopper is filled with information about the benefits of cold for weight control. Check out the articles How to Burn More Fat With Cold and How to Use Cold Weather to Lose Weight for some helpful and informative tips.
I generally start pretty much every day with a cold shower (although this started when I was a child and my grandfather told me that a “true gentleman saves the hot water for the ladies”). Whatever the rationale, this practice can help burn up to 500 extra calories per day! It can also help stabilize your blood sugar levels and increase some of your hormone levels including adinopectin which is a hormone that helps your body tap into its own fatty acids as fuel.
For even more of those cool benefits, or if you live somewhere that isn’t all that cold in the winter, you can keep your home a little cooler this winter, or invest in some cooling gear like a vest or compression clothes that you can slip ice packs into. You can also do “shiver walks” where you go for a walk on an empty stomach in the morning for 20-45 minutes in cold weather wearing only a hat, gloves, t-shirt, and shorts. I know, it sounds uncomfortable, but once you do it a few times, it gets addictive and invigorating.
Tip #3: The Best Workout for Fat Loss
The University of California published a study in 2008 which investigated what the best workout for fat loss was. During the study, they split the participants into three groups. One group did cardio, another group did weight training, and a final group did cardio plus weight training by running for 30-60 seconds after completing each weight lifting set.
Each group did the same amount of “work” but the cardio plus resistance group experienced a significant boost in fat loss compared to the other two groups and they not only burned fat and built muscle at the same time, but the amount of fat they burned was ten times more than the amount burned by the groups that did solo cardio or solo resistance training. Sadly they did not also put on ten times the muscle but we learned why this is during my experiment with CrossFit.
When it comes to burning the most fat, combining cardio and resistance training is the ultimate solution.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: when it comes to burning the most fat, combining cardio and resistance training is the ultimate solution.
If that leaves you scratching your head, here is a sample workout to get you started.
After a full body warm-up (like some sun salutations) do the following.
- 10 push-ups
- 15-20 jumping jacks
- 10 squats or lunges
- 15-20 more jumping jacks
- 10 crunches
- 15-20 jumping jacks
- 10 dumbbell overhead presses
- 15-20 jumping jacks
Pro tip: If you aren’t into doing all those jumping jacks, try squat-thrust jumps (burpees), vertical jumps (with high knees), or lunge jumps.
Tip #4: Grease the Groove
Greasing the groove is one of my favorite workouts to give the folks I coach when they have a busy day or are traveling. You can learn about it in the article called Unconventional Ways to Burn Fat. In a nutshell, Greasing the Groove is the practice of doing brief bouts of exercise multiple times throughout the day.
You can try this during commercial breaks of the Thanksgiving Day football game, between every course of the meal, or whenever you have a chance to duck away from the conversation. Politely excuse yourself, slip into the bathroom, the basement (or any other empty room) and do a quick series of heart-rate-increasing squats, lunge jumps, burpees, push-ups, or any other move you can do without attracting too much attention. If there is snow on the ground, you can even make yourself useful and go do some shoveling.
All you need is a 1-2 minute burst of exercise before you return to the party, having helped stabilize your blood sugar and rev up your metabolism just enough to make a difference. Sure, you may be breathing hard and even a little sweaty, but you can just blame it on the spicy salsa.
Tip #5: Use 10-Minute Workouts
Anyone, anytime, can find ten minutes to squeeze in a quick exercise session, even during the busy holiday season. Ten minutes is short but is plenty of time to boost your metabolism and ramp up your calorie burning. Check out the article How To Make Time For Exercise for more tips on getting it done.
I’ll give you some examples with no need for a warm-up or cool-down, just get right to it, and don’t forget that if you have extra time you will get more benefit from rocking the ten-minute workout two to three additional times spread evenly throughout the day.
Ten-Minute Workout #1: Full Body Burn
All you need is one pair of dumbbells (or something heavy to lift) and a chair (or a set of stairs). Warm up with 25-50 jumping jacks, then do 10-15 reps of each set of exercises twice, back to back.
- Dumbbell Squat With Overhead Press to Bent Side Raises
- Dumbbell Push-Up Row to Single Arm Dumbbell Row
- High Knee Step-Ups to Reverse Lunges
Ten-Minute Workout #2: Butt, Abs, Thighs
No equipment needed for this one. Just complete this routine as a circuit, one time through, moving as quickly as you can between the exercises.
- 25 Body Weight Squats
- 10 Lunge Jumps per side
- 10 Side Plank Rotations
- 10 Front Plank Taps
- 10 Lateral Lunges per side
- 10 Squat Jumps
- 25 Kickouts per side
- Finish with 60-second Squat Hold
Ten-Minute Workout #3: Maximum Calorie Burn
Again, no equipment needed, just do this as a circuit, three times through.
- 25-50 Jumping Jacks
- 5 Push-Ups
- 10 Squat-Thrust Jumps
- 5 Push-Ups
- 10 Vertical Jumps
- 5 Push-Ups
Tip #6: Use Some Body Weight Moves
Many studies have shown that a pre-meal exercise session, a post-meal exercise session, or both can significantly increase fat oxidation and metabolic rate. Good news is that you can get benefits from just a few reps (or a few minutes) of a body weight exercise as well. Try some of these before and after your largest holiday meal.
1. Counter-Movement Jumps
Squat down, swing your arms, and jump as high as you can, land and repeat. Set a timer on your phone for two minutes and do as many as you can before time runs out.
2. Side Plank Rotations
Drop to the ground and get on your right or left side in a plank position, reach for the sky and then reach down and around through the space between your ribs and the floor. Reach for the sky again and back and forth until your abs give out and you start to shake—then do the other side.
3. Double Leg Back Bridge
Again, get down on the floor, on your back with your knees bent and then thrust your hips toward the ceiling. This time, do as many as you can until your butt gives out.
Tip #7: Plan Ahead!
Because holiday hours can be sketchy and even somewhat random, make sure you check with your gym in advance to find out what their holiday hours are. That way, on the days when it is closed, you can plan to go for a walk or a run, or be prepared for a body weight exercise session at home, or plan a game of shinny at the local rink—get creative!
You can also set exercise goals that get you boosting your metabolism early in the morning, like blasting out 20 minutes of HIIT before 9:00 am. Not only is it a great way to start your day but it leaves plenty of room to Grease the Groove for the remainder of the day.
If you are traveling, make sure you do a search for gyms nearby where you are staying, or pack resistance bands, exercise gear, and running shoes. Also be sure to check out the article How To Stay Fit While Traveling for workouts that you can do when you are away from home.
Tip #8: Don’t Stress Out
If, or perhaps more accurately when, holiday stress happens there are things you can do. As we discussed in the article How Exercise Affects the Brain, one of the best ways to control stress is simply to get some exercise. This may seem counterintuitive since stress often makes you want to exercise less but it is true that exercise is actually one of the best stress-busters.
Don’t think “I can’t get my regular 45-minute swim workout in so I guess I will just skip it altogether.” Do what you can and your mood is certain to improve.
Remember that when it comes to exercise every little bit helps. Don’t be all-or-nothing or think, “I can’t get my regular 45-minute swim workout in, so I guess I will just skip it altogether.” Do what you can and your mood is certain to improve.
Tip #9: Don’t Give In
I probably wouldn’t be rounding up all these tips (and you probably wouldn’t be reading them) if holiday weight gain wasn’t kind of accepted as inevitable. Because of that, it’s easy to feel ok about overindulging, succumbing to gluttony, and giving in to laziness during the holidays.
But let me ask you this: wouldn’t you feel much better if on January 1 your New Year’s resolution wasn’t “get back in shape?” What if you were still as fit as ever, and could instead resolve to learn a new language, start a side business, take up knitting, or set your sights on a goal like racing a triathlon or a marathon with me as your coach? Picture that. Pretty pleasing isn’t it? Much more enticing than the passing pleasure of an extra piece of pie, or needing to loosen your pants to make room for more stuffing, and then falling asleep slouched over on the couch at 7:00 pm in a turkey coma.
I know I have given you a lot of info here but let me break it down. Even if you simply choose the 6-minute trick plus some cold exposure, or try out the best workout for fat loss and chuck in some greasing the groove this holiday season, you will be well on your way to burning off that 16 pounds of turkey in no time.
If you can implement all nine of these tips, fantastic. But don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Do what you can so you can come out of this holiday season on top! And if you would like more tips on how to stay slim, fit, and trim during this holiday season, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hook you up with a little holiday magic that The Nutrition Diva (Monica Reinagel) and I are cooking up for you. I think you will find it helpful. Any time you need extra incentive to stay on track or to boost your holiday resolve, simply try picturing yourself on New Year’s Eve, reflecting on your year while feeling awesome and looking great and let that be your motivation to make this holiday season a fit one.
Image of holiday dumbbell © Shutterstock