10 Ways to Burn Off Holiday Calories

Fall and winter activities can help you balance out those holiday feasts

By Wendy C. Fries
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sage butter-basted turkey. Hazelnut praline and chocolate chunk torte. White cheddar and red pepper biscuits.

Does it seem like just reading the names of your favorite holiday fare causes the pounds to arrive like unwelcome gifts?

Even with the best intentions, the holidays cause many of us to eat a little too much, or to miss a few too many workouts.

So WebMD turned to health and fitness pros for holiday help. These experts gave us some of their simple tips on how -- between travel, parties, cooking, and company -- we can burn off some of those celebratory calories.

1. Do Your Home Work

The scenario: A festive cookie exchange at the office causes you to miss your yoga class, company's coming tonight, and the house is a mess.

Lucky you! "Housework is the best way to fit in a workout without even knowing it," says Shannon Griffiths, group fitness director for Lakeshore Athletic Club in Boulder, Colo. Scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming ? they all burn calories.

Even cooking fires up the calorie furnace, says Griffiths, especially if you're moving around the kitchen. So put on perky music and boogie down while you bake.

2. Shop Until You Drop -- Pounds!

"I like to use shopping as exercise, too," says Griffiths, who maintains that the best thing about going to the mall is all the walking. "That translates into a calorie burn."

To maximize that burn, Griffith recommends carrying your own holiday packages, then unloading them after every stop.

"If you're going to buy something at 10 different shops, go out to your car between each store," Griffiths says.

To encourage yourself to make those multiple trips to the parking lot or to take the mall stairs instead of elevators, Griffiths recommends wearing a pedometer.

"A pedometer really encourages you to ... get moving," she says. "You have to go shopping, so you might as well get a workout as you're doing it!"

Keep your pace brisk and you can burn 250-300 calories an hour.

3. Make Snow Your Ally

When it's snowing, it's time to bundle up and enjoy the free gym outside.

"The best calorie-burners are those that bring the heart rate up to a cardiovascular training zone," says Julia C. Jackson, owner of Friends in Fitness Corporate Wellness and Personal Training in California. For most healthy people, the American Heart Association recommends an exercise target heart rate ranging from 50% to 75% of your maximum heart rate, which is normally calculated as the number 220 minus your age.

Jackson advocates snowshoeing as a great way to get into that range.

"Snowshoeing is fantastic," Jackson says, "because absolutely anyone who can walk can snowshoe." The big bonus: you'll blaze through some 563 calories an hour doing it.

And don't forget cross-country skiing, which Jackson says offers "a complete body workout," building balance and coordination while burning about 650 calories an hour.

Prefer other winter sports? Downhill skiing flies through 352 calories an hour, while ice-skating glides through 493 calories an hour.

4. Get on the Ball

When it's too cold to be outside, get bouncy inside -- and strengthen your core muscles -- with exercise balls, recommends Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

Exercise balls, also known as fitness balls and balance balls, are large vinyl balls in various diameters ranging from 18 inches to 3 feet.

Your workout with an exercise ball can be as easy -- and fun -- as sitting on the ball and bouncing lightly to gently work your core muscles (the muscles surrounding your trunk and pelvis). A ball workout can also be pulse-pounding, if you use your ball as a prop for crunches, pushups, leg lifts, or squats.

Too pooped to prop? You can even burn a few calories simply sitting on the ball and working to maintain your balance.

5. Walking Is a Winner

For most of us, walking is the easiest way to burn a few extra calories during busy times.

The trick (after a good warm-up) is to keep your pace strong, says Diane Proud, a running pro at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas.

Try power walking, high-stepping, or climbing stadium stairs. According to Proud, such activities fire up major muscle groups like the quads and gluteals.

"Recruiting more muscle fibers during a workout is like stoking a fire ... the embers burn for a longer period," she says.

That means even when you're lounging by the fire later, you'll still be burning away extra calories.

If you keep up a moderate walking pace, expect to burn 250-300 calories hourly.