You’ve undoubtedly worked hard to adopt a gluten-free diet that both nourishes your body and allows you to live symptom-free. As they say, food really is the best medicine.
But even for people on a “perfect” gluten-free diet, exercise boosts overall health and well-being. And it’s particularly important at this time of year!
How Exercise Helps
Regular moderate exercise (30 minutes per day or more) boosts metabolism and increases circulation. A more efficient metabolism will help burn those excess holiday calories so you won’t store them as fat (i.e., directly on waist and hips).
Better circulation also means increased energy levels. Increased blood flow promotes faster healing to all parts of the body—including the digestive tract—thereby speeding any healing where you might need it most.
In addition, a recent study found that regular exercise decreases inflammation. For people with celiac disease, lowering inflammation overall is critical to healing and overall well-being.
Another direct benefit of exercise is stronger bones. Weight-bearing exercises (using weights, or walking) helps fortify your bone matrix, an area of concern for many people with celiac.
Exercise is also a mood-booster. While the holidays are a time for family, friends, fun and lots of great food, for many of us, they can also be a time when we experience the blues if they don’t turn out as picture-perfect as we imagined. Plus, with days being shorter and colder, the weather can also play a role in our mental state.
Those lunges and bicep curls ultimately increase serotonin (the “feel good” chemical) levels in the brain, which bolsters your overall sense of contentment with the world.
In addition, the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel from completing your regular routine can also improve your mood overall.
Finally, regular exercise helps you sleep better. With schedules as erratic as they are this time of year, having a sound sleep is a key to maintaining your health through the holidays!
Why You Need to Exercise Now
No matter how careful you might be, it’s much easier to load up on calories with holiday food than it is during the remainder of the year. Heavier, richer and more frequent meals and snacks mean more caloric intake, and packing on the pounds becomes much easier when you eat holiday foods.
So, what can you do? Sneak in that exercise any way you can! Keep it light and natural, and remember that any movement is better than none at all. Sitting on the couch with your toddy and a plate of gluten-free shortbread cookies won’t do your health much good on their own.
How to Sneak Exercise into Your Holiday Schedule
Use the gym? Don’t stop for the holidays
If you’re staying close to home this season, your regular gym is, of course, still easy to access. But when normal routines are disrupted (say, you’re visiting family or friends across the country or shuttling between several parties on one day), there are still workable options.
When you’re the one hosting the festivities, you can Invite family members who might be staying with you to work out together before the day’s events’ take over.
Similarly, if you’re staying with family out of town, ask them if there’s a local gym (or if they have their own equipment) you can use. Or, load up an exercise or yoga video on the computer and work out together.
Many hotels also offer exercise rooms that you can sneak into before the day’s itinerary takes over.
Take a lesson from your grandparents and go for a little stroll around the block after a heavy meal. Or incorporate afternoon trail hikes, walks with the dog, or other easy, outdoorsy activities into the days (post-prandial snowball fight, anyone?).
As a bonus, the extra sunshine will boost your Vitamin D levels (great for immunity and strong bones!) as well as your mood.
Between social activities
Family gatherings, festive dinners and It’s A Wonderful Life marathons uplift our spirits, connect us with loved ones, and remind us of what the holiday are all about.
But all these holiday-themed activities involve sitting or standing still, for much longer periods than we might be used to otherwise. And lack of movement can lead to stiffer muscles and joints, tired limbs and general fatigue after a heavy meal.
As an antidote to all that sedentary time, take frequent breaks during the day to stand and stretch. Walk from one room to the next; stretch your legs; place your hands on either side of the doorway and lean forward to extend your arms and torso; or stretch out your whole body by reaching toward that mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.
Simply head over to the closest stairway and walk up and down 2-3 times between courses, or between holiday movies or board games.
Yes, it’s the time of year to eat, drink and be merry. But let’s not forget to maintain that physical activity as part of the schedule. Not only will it help build fun and happy holiday memories, but it will ensure that they’re healthy ones, too.
Ricki Heller is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, writer, educator and whole foods recipe developer who teaches people how to love their food no matter how “restricted” their diets. A recovering sugar addict and former binge eater, Ricki now uses her blog, her books and her online programs to help people learn to stick with their healthy eating so they focus on healing and enjoying their lives. On her site, rickiheller.com, you’ll find health information and over 850 recipes free of gluten, sugar, eggs and dairy. She’s also the author of three bestselling books including Living Candida-Free, and her work has been featured by Ellen DeGeneres, ABC, CBS, Huffington Post, SHAPE magazine, Kris Carr, and others. She lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two dogs.