TORONTO (Reuters) -- It's hard to stick with routines during the busy holiday season but there are ways to get your exercise despite the time constraints. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind the next time you're tempted to trade a workout for yet another viewing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation".
Routine: Hard to Establish, Easy to Break
The major benefits of exercise come from regular workouts, says UT Southwestern's Dr. Peter Snell, and that's why it's important to keep your routine as intact as possible even during busy times. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't allow for some flexibility when necessary, by working out at different times if your usual hour of the day is busy or fitting in shorter workouts instead of none at all.
The best way to maintain your routine is to plan ahead in order to deal with changes in your schedule and location, says Donna Konradi, an assistant professor at the University of Indianapolis. When you schedule exercise in advance, instead of on the fly, you can plan workouts for when you have time available, even if it's not when you usually exercise. Work Harder, Not Longer
It's natural to feel crunched for time at the end of the year, and that's likely to extend to your workouts. But you can still get in an effective workout even if you don't have an hour to spare. If time is at a premium, try exercising at a higher intensity level in order to get an effective workout into a small time frame. Jog instead of walking, for example, or do less repetitions with heavier weights instead of more reps with lighter ones
Interval training - alternating high and low intensity exercise -- is another way to get a good workout in a shorter amount of time. A 2007 study from the University of Guelph found that subjects who exercised in intervals burned more fat and had increased cardiovascular fitness afterwards, regardless of their fitness levels. Take Advantage of the Weather
Snow and cold are often used as excuses to avoid exercise, but they can also provide you with opportunities to work out in a new way. Snowshoeing is a great workout that requires minimal equipment to work all your major muscle groups and burns about 550 calories an hour. Sixty minutes of downhill or cross-country skiing has about the same caloric output and gets in both a cardio and a strength workout.
Another option is to look to indoor exercise spaces that you'd ignore in nicer weather. Swimming is a great workout, and water aerobics are a good option for low-intensity exercise. Hot yoga, or Bikram yoga, will get you sweating no matter how cold it is outside. And look for fitness classes and lessons at the resort or hotel if you are on vacation for the holidays.
Combine Exercise and Socializing
Spending time with friends and family is a priority for many during the holiday season. If you plan active group activities, you won't have to sacrifice togetherness for exercise time. Hit an indoor or outdoor rink and burn about 400 calories an hour. Or take a hike in the woods or along a walking trail - the snow makes the activity more intense. Even fun activities like snowball fights and building snowmen are active and count as exercise.
Use Stress as an Excuse
If nothing else, remind yourself that taking some time to hit the gym is likely to make you less stressed, not more. Exercise is a great way to relieve anxiety, which you may have in spades during the holidays. Exercise can help to increase your brain's production of the feel-good neurotransmitters endorphins - they're behind the "runner's high", though the effect comes with any form of exercise.
And regular exercise is associated with relief of the symptoms of anxiety and mild depression, which means that the stress-busting effect of a few holiday workouts can last into 2009.