Between traveling, gifting, and social gatherings, trying to have healthy holidays might feel more stressful than white-flagging it until the new year. But like we’ve said before, you don’t need to put your own health and happiness on hold just because it’s the season of giving. In fact, we’re big fans of clapping for your damn self, which includes keeping your well-being a priority this season.
If you’re feeling the stress or just having a rough time with the holidays, here’s one simple way you can feel a little happier right now—get moving outside.
Why Outdoor Sweat Sessions Boost Happiness Now
Yup, we said outside. We already know that sticking to your fitness routine is a big part of having healthy holidays. But if you really want to step it up and get a more immediate boost, bundle up and get outdoors.
While exercise in any form gets a big thumbs-up, exercising outside—even just taking a walk— has been shown to increase happiness even more than indoor exercise. And that holds true regardless of the season…or weather.
Exercising outdoors has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, increase self-esteem, and promote relaxation and patience, all things that are basically essential for staying healthy through the holidays. While researchers don’t know the exact mechanism of this response, it’s clear that taking your physical activity outside can make you both happier and healthier.
If the weather where you are includes gray skies and temps that would shock the sunshine out of anyone, you might be less-than-enthused by this suggestion. But hang in there. Once you see how much of a boost you can get from moving outdoors, you might dig up your warmest gear and get going.
5 Outdoor Exercise Tips for Healthy Holidays
Here are some healthy holiday tips for getting the most out of your outdoor exercise and increasing your happiness this season.
1. Get outside any way you can
Love to walk on the beach or throw a Frisbee in a park? Maybe that’s not an option this time of year. How about biking, hiking, walking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing through a forest? A little more realistic? The good news is that it actually doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re moving outside. All types of natural space and all types of activities can help improve your happiness. If possible, try a few to see what works best for you.
2. …and stay out there if you can swing it
While short periods of outdoor physical activity have been shown to increase happiness, some research has found that longer can be better. For example, three hours of mountain hiking has been shown to significantly increase happiness and reduce anxiety compared to running inside on a treadmill. Feeling intimidated by spending hours sweating this season? Don’t be. Research suggests that when you exercise outside, you don’t feel that exercise is as demanding as when you move inside. You might even enjoy it.
So get your sunscreen or your thermal layers on and get out there for a few hours before your holiday feast. Bonus? You’ll work up a killer appetite, which means you have more room for dessert. And dessert is totally part of healthy holidays in our opinion.
3. But don’t panic, even 15-minutes count
Research on the mental health and happiness benefits of outdoor exercise has looked at everything from a 15-minute walk to those three-hour hikes mentioned above. The good news? Most studies have found at least some positive effect on happiness from any length of outdoor exercise.
We know that a three-hour holiday hike might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but you can probably swing a 15-minute walk, run, ice skate, or bike. Even throwing a football with your weird uncle counts.
4. Try it just once
Exercising outside even once can increase your happiness. Just one time. You can do that. And guess what? Taking your exercise outside makes it more likely that you’ll exercise in the future, according to research, which means you’re increasing your happiness even more. Lacing up your sneakers or boots yet?
5. Take someone along for the ride…or run
Getting your sweat on with a friend has been shown to increase how much you enjoy the exercise and as a result, your happiness levels. Some studies have even shown that exercising outside increases your chances of social interaction, which gives you even more happiness-boosting benefits.
Talk some family or friends into heading out there with you for even more enjoyable (and healthy) holidays.
Just get out there
So when the days feel long and dark and you’re feeling more frustrated than festive, getting outside and getting moving can help you find the happy and healthy holidays you’re looking for. You can go with a friend or go solo, take a quick walk or spend all day exploring. Just get out there and see what happens. You might find yourself a little happier and a little more relaxed this holiday. Or just ready for more bread. That counts too.
Your turn: What’s your top tip for healthy holidays? Tell us your favorite way to exercise outdoors in the comments.
If you like this post, you’ll also like HIIT for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide to High-Intensity Exercise
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.