December 24, 2012

The brisk walk, salsa dip formula

The holidays are an especially tough time to get or stay healthy, but there are many ways you can get it done.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

Michele Reynolds joined Bay Club Fitness last December, hoping to avoid the extra pounds that often result from all of the holiday parties and family gatherings held this time of year.

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Michele Reynolds, a member of the Bay Club fitness center in Portland, works out on exercise machines regularly to keep in shape. Reynolds vowed to get healthier this year, and succeeded – shedding 13 pounds with a better diet and workouts during her lunch breaks.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Her strategy worked and propelled the North Yarmouth resident through a healthier year. In that time, she dropped 13 pounds by improving her diet, cutting out extra carbs and working out three days a week at the One City Center fitness club during lunch breaks from her job at Portland City Hall.

"I didn't want to gain weight during the holidays and I stuck with it," Reynolds said during a recent workout. "I always feel better afterward."

Though Reynolds' effort may seem admirable but unattainable to some, fitness, food and mental health experts say her approach to staying healthy and upbeat during the holiday season is a good model to follow.

They suggest a variety of simple ways to stave off the pounds and manage the stress that can come between Christmas and New Year's. It can be as easy as choosing a wine spritzer over whisky-laced eggnog or taking a walk after a big meal rather than napping in front of the TV.

"Get outside and get moving," said Benjamin Towne, a lecturer in exercise, health and sports sciences at the University of Southern Maine. "It helps with digestion, it burns calories and, if nothing else, you get away from the in-laws for a little while."

But including in-laws in outdoor activities could help to improve strained relationships.

"You might find you like them a lot more than you thought," Towne said.

Towne, who's also the athletic trainer for the U.S. bobsled and skeleton team, recommends giving gifts that encourage friends and family members to get active, especially if the weather cooperates and delivers snow or allows lakes to freeze.

Sleds, snowshoes, skates and cross-country skis are good gift choices that can provide hours of relatively inexpensive outdoor fun long after the holidays, Towne said. Ice-and-snow cleats such as Yaktrax slip over boots and running shoes, allowing walkers and runners to stay active through the winter months.

But staying active during the holidays doesn't have to cost anything or require excursions into the cold outdoors, Towne said. He suggests heading down to the basement or out to the garage for 15 minutes of activity, such as 30 seconds each of jumping jacks, push-ups, squats and other exercises.

"You move a little, start to sweat and feel good about yourself," he said. 


Keeping off extra pounds during the holidays can be difficult, with gooey appetizers and sweet treats covering buffet tables at work parties, family gatherings and other events. Still, healthy food doesn't have to be tasteless or otherwise unappealing.

Deb Brooks, a professor of dietetic technology at Southern Maine Community College, tells her students to keep in mind that people eat with their eyes.

"Use color as if you're creating a painting on your table," Brooks said. "Because with color comes good nutrition."

Amid the carb-rich casseroles, salty spiral ham and greasy snack chips, Brooks recommends offering a colorful platter of vegetable sticks, including green, red and yellow peppers, carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower. To keep the veggies healthy, make a hummus dip with chickpeas, garlic and lemon juice or a creamy dip with protein-rich, nonfat Greek yogurt.

"It gives you lots of rich flavor and nutrition without the fat," Brooks said.

Brooks warns against cutting out everything considered unhealthy. Instead, she suggests keeping portions small and striking a balance between foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar and carbohydrates and fruits, vegetables and grains that are served as close to their natural state as possible.

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