Saturday 17 March 2018

Karl Henry: Tips for adding some festive family fitness

Perfect fit: Families can walk, run or jog the GOAL Mile, a great way to get everyone moving at Christmas time
Perfect fit: Families can walk, run or jog the GOAL Mile, a great way to get everyone moving at Christmas time

Karl Henry

We have just four days to go until the big day - when the nation sits down to the biggest calorific intake of the entire year. That clocks in at a reported 7,000 calories per person if you're following Jamie Oliver's fabulously festive menu - and, let's face it, probably just as many are consumed during the standard Irish Christmas dinner!

Last week, we focused on tips to help you survive the Christmas party period. This week, I'm bringing it one step further. Let's focus on Christmas Day itself and on simple ways your household can be that little bit healthier.

You have to set the tone in the morning - that's crucial. Luckily, there are normally a few options across the country:

The GOAL Mile: Since it started in 1982, thousands of people all over Ireland have taken part in this event every Christmas. It's a great way to get the family moving and raise funds. Simply turn up and run, jog or walk a mile - it couldn't be easier! Find one near you at

The "Polar Bear" swim: A slightly nippier option for sure, but why not take part in your local Christmas Day swim? This is a beloved event that has been going for more than 40 years, in which hardy folk don their togs or wetsuit and jump in for the ultimate Christmas morning wake-up while helping to raise some much-needed charity funds too. Just remember to bring some warm clothes for after!

It's all tremendous fun, not to mention for a good cause, and - as a bonus - it can actually improve your health for the rest of the day. You will feel energised, motivated and full of vigour, so you're more likely to make better choices throughout the rest of Christmas Day when it comes to your health and fitness. And, it has to be said, the sense of camaraderie down at the beach is hard to beat.

If, like me, you'll have a Christmas breakfast to go to at the in-laws' before heading back for dinner in your own home, it's so important to choose which one you're going to have your treats at beforehand. Personally, I choose to eat healthily in the morning, so I can enjoy my Christmas dinner later along with a few indulgent treats - because life is for living and far too short not to splurge now and again. Having said that, I normally run home from my in-laws' - eight miles or so - and really work up an appetite on the way. I'm not suggesting that everyone should do this, but leaving the car at home on Christmas Day can be a great way to get some movement in, breathe fresh air and enjoy a little family chat time too. Why not wrap up warm and give it a try?

Then comes the big dinner - my favourite meal of the whole year. My mum makes the most incredible Christmas dinner (I'm excited even writing about it!). Ideally, I'd recommend trying to get as many people involved in preparing the meal as possible: every task, from washing and peeling the vegetables to laying the table, serving and cleaning up afterwards.

Not only will this get you all moving a little more, it actually makes for a more enjoyable day. Everyone feels as if they have a specific purpose and a role to play, making it even more satisfying when you all come to sit down for dinner.

In our house, we always have plenty of healthy foods mixed into our Christmas dinner spread - such as roasted vegetables, sweet potato colcannon, broccoli dressed with a little bit of natural yoghurt, Brussels sprouts (with gravy on the side) and then, for dessert, frozen yoghurt with fruit.

Obviously, we enjoy all of the usual treats as well: the stuffing, turkey, ham and roast potatoes, but why not throw in a healthier option with your dinner too? You'll be surprised what gets eaten when it's placed on the table.

One thing we'll all have after the Christmas spread is plenty of leftovers. So, in advance, I'd advise buying tinfoil containers and storing the leftovers in the freezer for a later date. You'll have lots of lovely protein in the turkey, great for lean-meat snacks in the days after.

If you do nothing else, enjoy the big day! I'm not trying to ruin the Christmas feast, just simply trying to encourage you all to sprinkle a little bit of health throughout the holidays.

Irish Independent

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