I don’t look forward to the holidays. But, that may have changed last year.
We’re about to enter the a season that lots of people love. It’s full of excitement, fun, and nostalgia. Others dread what’s coming up. For them, it’s full of stress, loneliness, and disappointment.
I love Thanksgiving. But, Christmas brings out my inner Eeyore. I don’t like shopping, wrapping, decorating, and singing. I’m a full-on introvert so lots of people-filled events can be draining.
I enjoy Christmas Day, but not so much everything leading up to it. This year might be different. And, that’s because of what happened last year.
There were two significant events that occurred during last year’s holiday season. The first involved my wife, Ava. She really likes Christmas. But, last year she was battling breast cancer and that made the tasks of Christmas harder for her.
She got 21 rounds of radiation that started in early December and finished in early January. One of the common side effects is fatigue. This is a fatigue you can’t wipe away with a nap or even a good night’s sleep. And, it gets a little worse with each treatment. So Ava was in the thick of it during Christmas last year. If we were going to have a meaningful holiday I would have to wipe away my lack of enthusiasm and step it up.
Just perfect. (Notice how I used the Sarcasm font right there?)
The second significant event during the holidays last year was my 20k One Year Step Challenge. My public goal was to get at least 20,000 steps every day for a year. That started in September.
So last year, I was forced to lean into something I didn’t enjoy and do it while hitting 20,000 steps a day.
Thankfully, walking has significant real life benefits. I learned what happens when you apply those benefits to something you don’t enjoy.
It changes things!
WALKING LOWERS STRESS
Christmas is stressful…especially if you aren’t a fan of shopping, decorating, and wrapping. There’s also lots of extra things on the calendar! I simply don’t look forward to all this and I feel the stress. I know I’m not alone.
One of the greatest benefits of walking (or any exercise) is that it reduces stress! I’m not making this up. Research consistently lands on this conclusion.
Before the holidays arrived, I predicted a pretty stress-filled month because of our circumstances. I wasn’t pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen. All those steps every day played a big part in that!
WALKING PROVIDES MARGIN
I don’t do well with a crowded schedule. If my day is filled with meetings, tasks, and activities and there’s no margin in my schedule I get cranky.
Reaching 20,000 steps requires about three and a half hours of walking. Some of that just happens because of life, but not all of it. I need at least one long walk every day which provides needed margin.
As the holiday activities cranked up last year I always had a block of time to reach my goal. This built-in guaranteed margin was a game changer. Typically, I would have let the holiday overwhelm my schedule, but last year that didn’t happen.
WALKING IMPROVES MOOD
I love endorphins! These are the feel good chemicals your body produces when you’re engaged in sustained physical activity. Endorphins make you feel better!
I not only didn’t feel the stress of everything, I actually enjoyed the lead up to Christmas. Who was I?!
I’m sure some of that was the result of serving Ava. I couldn’t fix her fatigue, but I could lighten her load. I was happy I could do that!
But, I’m also convinced a lot of my “good mood” came from those endorphins. I even enjoyed going to Walmart the weekend before Christmas. The aisles were crowded and the lines were long. But, my smile never became a frown.
Love those endorphins! That might be reason why bouncy Tigger is always happy and slow moving Eeyore is not.
WALKING PROMOTES CREATIVITY
I don’t do gifts well. And, that’s an understatement. But, last year I wanted to change that for Ava. She was going through a lot and I wanted to find a gift that moved her to tears. Seriously, that was my goal.
There was a recent study that concluded walking dramatically increases creative thinking when it’s focused on a specific problem. My problem was I stink at figuring out what to give as gifts. And, last Christmas I had to stink a lot less than usual.
So, I took a walk and guess what happened? You can read the answer HERE. Let’s just say, my walk confirmed what the research already knew. It was a beautiful thing and it was the highlight of my Christmas.
WALKING DEEPENS RELATIONSHIPS
A lot of my walking is done alone. That works really well for me because of that introvert thing. But, my favorite walks are with Ava.
Cancer is a scary thing and walking together helped us process her new reality. We grew even closer and that mattered…a lot…through the holidays. Those walking conversations helped me understand what Ava was feeling during her treatment. It also helped me know what she needed me to do…even if she never asked.
When you walk with someone you love your stress is lower, the endorphins are flowing, and your thinking is better. That’s a pretty good combination to deepen a relationship.
WALKING BUILDS FITNESS MOMENTUM
The holiday craziness can overtake your life and it’s easy to set fitness aside until January. I’ve done that many times. Even after I got my first Fitbit seven years ago and made walking my thing, I still slowed down every year during the holidays. I would lose some fitness and rebuilding that in January was not easy.
But, last year’s daily goal of 20,000 steps did not allow me to take a break. I was grateful come January.
And, you know how you can feel guilty if you slow down (or stop) fitness when life gets real busy? Yeah. I didn’t feel that last Christmas.
WALKING BURNS CALORIES
And, there’s this.
I’m not going to be disingenuous and suggest if you walk more you won’t gain any weight during the holidays, but you may not gain as much. Let’s face it…food is a big part of the celebrations.
The star of our Christmas breakfast menu is a wonderful cheesy hash brown casserole. It’s AMAZING! We only have it on Christmas morning, and I enjoy every extra scoop I can get. There’s usually some left over that I enjoy for a couple days after Christmas too. I don’t even want to know how many calories are in each bite.
All I know is those 20,000 steps a day sure burned off more calories than if I wasn’t moving at all!
(BONUS) WALKING SUPERSIZES TASKS
Have I mentioned how much I don’t like shopping and decorating? The nice thing about needing 20k a day is that goal made each of these activities a little more enjoyable.
I did a lot of shopping during the week before Christmas. The stores were full and the parking lots even fuller. No worries. Those extra steps from the parking spot furthest from the store added up. So did walking up and down the aisles looking for what we needed.
But, the best day of combining a task I don’t like with walking happened two days before Christmas. Our tree was up and decorated, but I decided the house needed more. Ava went our for a morning run (three weeks into radiation and she was still doing long runs. She’s a beast!) and I moved through the house with purpose.
I cleaned. I strung lights. I found decorations we hadn’t used in years and turned the house into something that almost looked like a Christmas Wonderland. She came home for the run and her smile said it all.
And…I added thousands of steps to my Fitbit.
I was at Walmart in mid-October and the holiday section was up and fully stocked. Normally my reaction is not positive. It’s a reminder of what’s coming that I don’t look forward to.
But, not this year.
I walked through each aisle and started thinking how I can make the holidays even better than last year.
Walking makes the holidays better. Walking makes life better.
You should try it!
After the holidays, are you ready to start a fitness journey that finally sticks, gradually builds momentum, and leads to fitness transformation? Coming soon…details of a special New Year Fitness Challenge that will help you start a fitness journey that lasts. Most goals never make it beyond the third week! This Challenge will help you be among the elite few!!
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Let’s make 2020 a year to remember!
Since your wife is an avid runner, are you ever tempted to just start running, to make the steps go faster? Personally I get more of an endorphin rush from walking interspersed with running, but I’m not fast and I can’t run for very long.
Hi April. I used to be a runner and will run one race a year now, but I FAR prefer the benefits of walking to running. I enjoy my walks as opportunities to think and plan…something I can’t seem to do when I’m running because my mind is focused on the activity.
Thanks for the reply. Your post today motivated me to go to the park. The stress relief factor is something that I sometimes forget about.