Published on 11/18/15

Exercise can take the edge off of holiday stress

By Bridget Marie Thompson

For children, there’s hardly a downside to the holidays; toys, treats and time away from school are enough to bring on dreams of sugarplums. For adults, the holidays can conjure a string of mental to-do lists and tension that make those sugarplums feel more like a sugar crash.

University of Georgia experts have some strategies to make the holidays feel a little less hectic.

You may not unwrap a My Little Pony play set or baseball glove, but physical activity can be the gift that makes this holiday season the best yet, said Bryan McCullick, UGA professor of kinesiology.

“When an individual is feeling stress around the holidays, it helps to get regular doses of physical activity that can help thwart the not-so-good products of stress that one feels not only in the brain, but in the body,” McCullick said.

Between travel, parties and errands, an extra busy holiday schedule can seem like a good reason to default on a regular exercise routine, so it’s important to create the time to be active.

Make a list. Check it twice.

Purposefully schedule time to move each day this season. Walk around the neighborhood to look at lights each night, jog in place while watching your favorite holiday movie or pull up a yoga class online and work out in your pajamas. Stay present this season through these kinds of activities, instead of being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Future.

As an added bonus, studies show exercise can help boost immunity, which could mean starting the New Year without a doctor’s appointment.

Give yourself the gift of self-compassion.

Don’t expect six-pack abs overnight. If it doesn’t take extravagant gifts to make you happy, the same expectations should apply to your exercise goals. A simple 20-minute walk will still offer amazing benefits.

Research shows that moderate exercise can produce both short-term and long-term mood-boosting effects.

“Moderate to vigorous physical activity releases endorphins, which are the naturally occurring chemicals in our body that mask pain and give us a sense of euphoria,” McCullick said.

Assembly not required.

Too often, adults also fall for the latest “toys.” There’s no fancy equipment (or any equipment) required to get fit and active.

It’s not the equipment that creates the mental and physical benefits of exercise. Consistency is key when it comes to gaining the full benefits. Pursuing an active lifestyle costs nothing. The great outdoors and your own body weight are all the equipment you need.

The ultimate gift is a clear mind and a healthy body. For more information about healthy lifestyles and how to promote physical activity, visit

Bridget Thompson is the public relations specialist for the University of Georgia's Walk Georgia program.