Too Much Togetherness? Exercise Helps Keep Family Holidays Merry


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Given family hopes and often unrealistic expectations that everything will go perfectly, holiday gatherings can sometimes be a recipe for untoward stress.  One of the best ways to keep potential ’tis-the-season tensions under control is to carve out some time for exercise, a move supported by research findings at Princeton University.  Other experts suggest that from practicing a favorite Eastern modality to taking a natural spin around the neighborhood, we all have instant access to foolproof tactics for staying relaxed, healthy and more even-keeled among kin this winter.

To mend nerves frayed by debates at the dinner table, slip into a nearby bedroom for a calming yoga workout.  Yoga’s emphasis on controlled breathing makes it ideal for treating family dynamics straight out of  Silver Linings Playbook.  The Mayo Clinic reports that deep breathing increases the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream, easing headaches, muscular tension and chest tightness.  Yogic breathing patterns also are shown to lower resting heart rates, which helps practitioners stay composed in the face of any intra-family disagreements or other stressors.

For a quick, relaxing yoga routine, begin with a few breathing exercises before moving into a sun salutation–a sequence of full-body poses, or asanas, performed in a smooth, continuous flow.  Begin standing, palms pressed together in the tadasana, or mountain pose.  Then move through a series of motions that sweep the arms over the head, expanding the chest, before dipping into downward dog and plank poses, which help increase flexibility and strength.  End lying down in the shavasana, or resting, pose with eyes closed and let the quiet settle in.

Resistance-training exercises are another option.  Release pent up tension by pushing against a wall.  Stand about three feet away, lean in and push.  Position feet at an angle so that a straight body line forms the hypotenuse of a triangle with the wall and floor.  This activity drains the limbs of tightness and stretches out hamstrings and calf muscles, enabling us to walk away feeling light and limber.

While some people can happily greet and maintain cheerfulness throughout holiday family times, others may feel a bit anxious.  For a sure-fire endorphin boost, try a cardiovascular workout like running, which German researchers published in Cerebral Cortex confirm produces a flood of euphoria on cue.  A quick jog or spirited walk outside helps elevate mood while strengthening the immune system, helping to keep feelings of melancholy at bay.

Before heading for the door, those stretching their legs outside in colder climates need to dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer reads.  This helps prevent the body from overheating, especially after being sedentary for an extended period.  TO get the blood flowing beforehand, do some simple stretching or take a few trips up and down the stairs.

Exercisers that prefer to stay sheltered from wintry weather entirely have a solid alternative; an indoor cardiovascular workout can mimic jogging’s mood-lifting effects.  Try alternating 12 reps of jumping jacks, lunges, squats and crunches to get the heart pumping.  Consider a second series for a higher intensity workout.  All of it will give muscles that often go slack during holiday loafing a chance to flex.  Because these moves don’t require any equipment, such electives are as portable as a travel hair dryer during holiday visits anywhere.

After one or more of these solo workouts, many revelers may be ready to up the ante on family togetherness.  For a healthy dose of quality time, round up the gang and enlist them in a high-energy outdoor activity like hiking, sledding or even Ultimate Frisbee.  Participating in friendly family competition is healthy fun and gives everyone something else to talk about later.

Sarah Todd is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.  Connect at SarahToddInk.com.

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