Health & Wellness Society & Culture

Family fitness can be a healthy way to celebrate the holidays

UGA exercise researcher recommends starting new tradition of physical activity

Athens, Ga. – The holidays aren’t just a time for gathering around the table and eating-they’re also a time for staying active with friends and family, according to a University of Georgia exercise researcher.

Ellen M. Evans, a professor in the department of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education and the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health, said a recent health trend during the holidays is to maintain weight, rather than expect to work off extra cookies in the new year. One way to keep this goal, she advises, is to use family gatherings as a way to start a new tradition of physical activity.

“Food is a connector, but so is movement,” Evans said. “If you always have a tradition to make a turkey, maybe you can always have a tradition to go on a hike while it’s cooking.”

The rise in popularity of “turkey trots,” or foot races taking place Thanksgiving morning, is one indicator that families are looking for ways to be active together during the holidays. But Evans said an activity can also be something low-impact that different ages enjoy together. “It can even be an after-dinner dog walk,” she said. “As long as it’s something that gets you moving together.”

It’s important to find an activity everyone can do, she said, because the group nature of it makes it easier for family members of all ages to buy into the idea. Something as simple as a walk seems less about physical fitness and more about a social activity when it’s done as a group.

The number of foot races on Thanksgiving Day now number more than 300, according to the racing website Although, running a 5K before eating turkey, stuffing, cranberry dressing and pie isn’t the only way to start a fitness tradition. Evans said families can take a brisk morning walk through the neighborhood, take a drive to a nearby park for a hike, go for a bike ride or take part in their own family football game.

What’s important, Evans said, is that activities balance holiday-fueled calories. “If you can maintain and not gain, that’s a win.”