Staying fit during calorie-heavy holidays

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Like a shopper in a slow checkout line, personal trainer Bob Mittleman has little patience for the holidays.

"I don't want to wait until January 1 to do a fitness makeover with my clients," says Mittleman, owner of Fitness Together, a one-on-one studio in Cold Spring Hills. "I want to start now. Let's get ahead of the curve."

This is a marked departure from past approaches to the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, when the advice of most fitness professionals was to do whatever was possible in the face of what were perceived as inevitable and insurmountable obstacles: extra calories, added stress and decreased time for training over the holiday season.

Failure was almost assumed, as if one should feel lucky to emerge on Jan. 1 still able to walk to the refrigerator and back without being winded.

But while Mittleman may sound like a bit of an exercise Scrooge, he's not alone: His "Get Fit Not Fat" challenge is typical of more aggressive efforts aimed at keeping active people from losing much of their hard-earned fitness this time of year. "I tell them, 'Instead of slacking off, we're going to kick it up a notch,' " Mittleman says. He challenges his clients to do additional sessions in the gym; to modify their diet and avoid overindulging at parties; to do all the things people know they need to do but can't seem to find time or motivation to do this time of year.

They key is to have a plan, says exercise scientist Polly de Mille, clinical supervisor of sports performance at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. "Look ahead, know your schedule, know the days the food is going to be around, and plan accordingly," says de Mille, who has organized a similar holiday challenge through the hospital that is open to all (hss.edu/fitnesschallenge). "Most people who have exercise as a fairly consistent part of their lives are already doing this; it just takes a little more planning and creativity over the holidays."

Admittedly, it's not always easy to find the time now. "It's almost impossible to get to the gym for some people," says Freeport-based personal trainer Maria DiCroce. But she, too, has an answer: the 30-day Holiday Slimdown Challenge, a daily regimen that can be done at home, using three exercises. "You work the whole body, and you don't need any equipment," Di Croce says.

Indeed, if you follow it for the entire 30 days, you'll build up to a highly respectable 30 push-ups, and be able to hold a two-minute plank.

The complete 30-day challenge, plus additional tips, are available via DiCroce’s website: www.myphitness.com

There's something worth celebrating on New Year's Eve.

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