Thanksgiving is a hectic day in most households – floors to sweep, turkeys to baste, nieces and nephews to keep under control. By the time everyone’s together and settled at the table, they’ve got their eyes set on one and only one activity: digging in.
But the veritable feasting associated with America’s most gluttonous holiday can take a toll if it’s not balanced with healthy activities, said Dr. Kay Judge, medical director of the Sutter Weight Management Institute. The average American will eat about 3,000 calories’ worth of Thanksgiving staples such as sweet potato casserole, crispy turkey, starchy stuffing and pumpkin pie, according to the Calorie Control Council. That doesn’t even account for the drinks and nosh that precede the meal and continue into the night.
Rather than dedicate the day purely to calorie consumption, Judge recommends a few easy, family-friendly activities to keep everyone moving. While you’re not likely to burn off your towering pile of Thanksgiving food, it’s important to give the metabolism a boost every few hours as you enjoy the festivities, she said.
Finding time to hit the gym or go for a run is a long shot on a holiday, but the best approach is to spread these activities out over the day and shoot for a cumulative hour of movement, she said.
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Take a gratitude walk
If the weather allows it, a morning walk around the block is a great way to get the metabolism moving from the get-go, said Judge. The most effective way is in intervals – five minutes of warming up followed by 20 minutes of on-and-off intense walking. That means two minutes of walking so fast you’re almost running, followed by two minutes of leisurely strolling. Doing that a few times should get your heart rate up without getting sweat on your holiday clothes. Take a five-minute cooldown to catch your breath before returning to the party.
In the evening, inspire the family to walk the neighborhood. Ask everyone to think of five things they’re grateful for, Judge said. Take turns sharing those lists and you’ll be walking off a few hundred calories before you know it.
Have an active video game tournament
Between Wii Fit, virtual ZUMBA and Dance Dance Revolution, video game console owners have plenty of indoor fitness options. Sliding in a disc occupies the kids, and can get the grown-ups out of their shell too. Most of these games allow up to four players, so large families can set up competitive brackets or take turns jumping in.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that kids burn an average of 250 calories while playing dance video games for an hour. Other video games encourage other types of motion, such as virtual bowling, tennis or snowboarding.
Stage a family fitness contest
Make the most of your family rivalries with some friendly fitness competition. Judge recommends the following timed contests to improve muscle strength and balance in just a few minutes:
Plank contest: Have all able family members get into a plank or modified plank position on the living room floor while one family member runs a timer. Whoever holds their plank the longest gets bragging rights for the rest of the day.
Yoga contest: Lead everyone into Tree Pose by bringing the sole of one foot to the opposite knee and bringing their hands to a prayer position at the chest. Have one family member run the timer, and see who has the best balance. For older family members, performing balance exercises like tree pose every day can reduce the risk of falls by 50 percent in the long run, Judge said.
Go play at a park
If the rain stays away, get some fresh air while the turkey is in the oven and head to your nearest park with a flying disc, a football or even a kite.
In Sacramento, East Portal Park and Sutter’s Landing Park have publicly accessible bocce courts. McKinley Park and many others have basketball hoops. If your local park lacks amenities but has grass, start a round of freeze tag or try a yard game like Red Rover or Red Light, Green Light. You’ll burn some calories, and make great memories too.
Try laughter yoga
Laughter yoga, or forcibly laughing for several minutes at a time, is growing in popularity as its health benefits become clearer. Chuckling enhances your air intake, which stimulates many of your organs and increases the endorphin release in your brain, a Mayo Clinic report found. It also fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate.
“One person starts laughing and then everyone joins and you do forced laughing for about three to five minutes,” Judge said. “Laughter stimulates gut digestion and helps your core. It’s actually really a great thing.”