TICKING OVER: Consider the holidays a time to 
maintain fitness, not a time to set new goals or be 
ambitious, experts advise. Picture: THINKSTOCK

STICKING to a fitness routine is not always easy, but it gets even harder over the holidays, when feasting, drinking and generally overdoing it can make it harder to stay on track.

It is the season, experts say, to bend your fitness routine so it does not break.

"Consider the holidays a time to maintain fitness, not a time to set new goals or be ambitious," says US fitness expert Shirley Archer, author of Fitness 9 to 5, Easy Exercises for a Working Week (Chronicle Books), and Weight Training for Dummies (For Dummies). The average person gains half a kilogram each year during the holiday season, Ms Archer says, but it is a fate you can avoid by being active when time allows.

"Research tells us that you can get an effective strength training routine in as little as 15 minutes," she says.

"This is not ideal to build strength over time, but is sufficient to keep what you have during the holidays."

Other experts say bare-bones cardio workouts can be accomplished by fitting short, 10-minute bouts of activity into your holiday plans.

Danielle Hopkins, group fitness manager and instructor at an Equinox fitness centre in New York, tells her concerned clients to try to sweat at least 20 minutes a day.

"I stress the importance of keeping to your routine. The main thing is putting it on your calendar," says Ms Hopkins, who says drinking too much makes it harder to make it to the gym.

"Always make room. It’s pretty easy to do. If you’re travelling, bring your running shoes, or a jump rope, or look for a gym."

And rest assured that one night of overindulgence will not derail a year of work.

"Everyone’s diet has a bit of wiggle room," she says. "I think it’s good to imbibe a little, but be strategic about what you will allow."

Constantly avoiding holiday temptation is tiring and in the end unsustainable, says Gregory Chertok, a sports psychologist with the American College of Sports Medicine.

When navigating holiday stresses, from family to poor food choices, Mr Chertok, who is based in New Jersey, says a simple change in attitude can yield powerful results.

"Embrace challenge rather than avoid temptation," he says.

"Avoidance over time can be pretty exhausting. Just like our physical muscles, our mental muscles can get exhausted. Will power requires replenishment."

He says studies show that when people try too feverishly to control themselves, their will power wanes.

"There are ways to keep your will power at a strong level, such as staying away from overly restrictive diets, planning the occasional indulgence and eating small frequent meals," he says.

Surrounding yourself with people of similar health and wellness inclinations can also facilitate positive choices.

"We’re influenced very powerfully by others’ behaviour," Mr Chertok says.

He encourages his clients to allow for the occasional slip. Being self-forgiving and self-compassionate leads to greater success.

"People who set strict goals will self-chastise, self-criticise," he says. "That doesn’t allow for high performance or self-esteem. As human beings, we take care of ourselves when we feel worthy of self-care."

US trainer Tracy Anderson, whose fitness DVDs include Metamorphosis and Mini-Trampoline Workout, stresses consistency.

"The most important thing is to become a consistent exerciser, where you go and have 30 minutes to one hour daily of focused work," she says. "That is the number one best thing we can be doing."

Her advice for people fretting about the holiday season is simply to "feed the soul".

"One time a year is not toxic; in fact, it is the opposite," she says from her New York home.

"It feeds your soul so much that it helps your stress. I say eliminate the word ‘diet’ from your vocabulary for three days before and after a holiday."

Ms Archer echoes the sentiment and suggests enjoying the pleasures of the seasons.

"All too soon, your routine will return and you can hit your fitness programme with renewed commitment and enthusiasm," she says.