The 12-day fitness challenge

Dec 6, 2012 at 6:34 a.m. ET

The holiday season isn't just about fun, food and parties. It can be a time of stress, slack dieting and exercise, and weight gain. However, we've got a 12-day fitness challenge for you to jump-start your holiday season and have you in shape even before the new year.

Woman walking in snow

listDay 1: Let it go, let it go, let it go

On the first day of this challenge, grab a notebook and write down all of your fears, negative thoughts, past fitness failures and any excuses you have for not committing to fitness. Then write down why it is important to get into shape. Decide to focus on your positives and toss your negative thoughts and excuses list into a trash can.

Day 2: Brisk walking in a winter wonderland

Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient exercises that can be done throughout your day, whether you’re at work or at home. Don’t let the colder months keep you indoors — bundle up in your trendy winter gear and head outside. Jenny Miller, personal trainer from Glenview, Illinois, suggests brisk walking around the neighborhood for 30 minutes while enjoying the sights and scenery of the holidays.

Quick Tip

Do you live in a snowy climate? Use that to your advantage. Miller points out that walking in the snow could add more resistance than walking on a flat surface.

Day 3: Rockin’ around the Christmas tree

The holiday season is a great time to celebrate, so why not have some fun and let your hair down while you break a sweat? Miller says that dancing is a great way to raise your heart rate and burn calories (Did you know that a Zumba dance workout can burn 500 to 900 calories an hour?). So put on your favorite songs and Christmas carols and challenge yourself to dance for 30 minutes. Chances are you’ll have so much fun that you won’t even realize that you’re workin’ as you’re rockin’.

Day 4: Jingle bell rock

Tank tops may not be in season, but it’s still important to strength train your shoulders, arms and upper body. Rick Applewhite, a personal trainer in Chicago, says that it's important to develop coordination and strength, so grab your dumbbells (between two and five pounds) and complete his recommended balancing exercise:

Stand on one leg with the opposite leg lifted slightly off of the ground and do 10 arm curls with your dumbbells. Alternate the legs and repeat for two more sets. "This exercise will teach you how to balance while improving your strength," says Applewhite.

Day 5: Girlie, it’s cold outside

Maybe the weather outside is frightful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your workout indoors. Whether you pop in a 30-minute fitness DVD or run up and down the stairs, exercising in your home can be just as effective as going to the gym.

"I think a big thing people can realize is that there is a lot you can do in your home. There are so many options that you don't need equipment for, and you can find 10 to 15 minutes a day," says Miller. "While watching your favorite TV shows or holiday movies, you can do sit-ups, lunges, push-ups, biceps curls holding a can of soup, triceps dips on the edge of your couch and leg lifts during the commercial breaks."

broomDay 6: Family/friends are coming to town

If you feel your time is limited as you prepare for holiday gatherings and parties with family and friends, you can still get in a workout while cleaning and decorating. Whether you're mopping, sweeping, dusting, or taking out the trash, holiday cleaning can help you burn calories, so throw on some holiday music as you scrub and clean. You can also add a few lunges, squats and stretches to your cleaning routine as you multitask.

Day 7: You’re a lean one, on the move

Cardio is essential to making sure your body is lean and fit for the challenge. Set this day aside to knock out any holiday stress by engaging in punching exercises. Applewhite recommends doing 15 quick jabs followed by 15 side kicks and then run in place for 30 seconds. Take a 30-second break and switch to the other side. Repeat the circuit three times.

Day 8: Bike ride (giddy up, let’s go)

Bike riding is an effective cardio exercise that can help you lose weight and build muscle mass and endurance, and it's a great way to get your lower body into shape. If you're not up for bike riding in the cold, take a spinning class (a high-level intensity class can burn 600 calories per hour) or go at your own speed on a stationary bike and push yourself by changing the resistance to increase the intensity.

Day 9: A few of your favorite things

Tip: If you only have one favorite, then engage in that activity for 30 minutes and give it all you got.

Do you dread push-ups? You can skip them today. Instead, focus on your favorite exercises. Maybe you enjoy jumping jacks or mountain climbers or just walking. Miller suggests picking five activities that you can do in your home (e.g., incline push-ups on your kitchen counter) or outside (e.g., shoveling snow or jogging around the block) and go through the circuit three times. Whatever exercises you choose, pick the ones that you enjoy.

Day 10: Silent workout

Focus on your technique, breathing and your fitness goals today by exercising in silence (yes, that means no iPod). Relax and get rid of any stress by engaging in yoga exercises and practicing deep-breathing meditation. Let this be a day of reflection as you focus on what you've already accomplished as well as your ultimate health goals for today and beyond.

Day 11: Deck the abs

Do you have rock-hard abs on your fitness wish list this year? Dedicate this day to working on your abdominal muscles. Though these exercises won't melt away belly fat and tone your abdomen overnight, they are effective and can help you develop a strong core to help you tone your midsection (along with cardio activity and a healthy diet). Do these ab exercises with a 30-second cardio interval between each set.

  • Bicycle (12 reps) followed by 30 seconds of cardio (such as running or jumping jacks)
  • Reverse crunch (12 reps) followed by 30 seconds of cardio
  • Plank of elbows and toes (hold for 30 seconds) followed by 30 seconds of cardio
  • Repeat circuit three times.

Day 12: Dreaming of a light workout

Congrats — you made it through the 12 days! Today you can engage in light exercise, such as swimming, jogging, walking or slow biking, because you deserve it.

"There are great health benefits to working out and staying in shape," says Miller. "You are giving yourself a healthier lifestyle. You can make it a habit, as well as end this year and start off the new year in shape and healthy."

Remember, the 12 days of fitness doesn't end here. Continue to spoil yourself with healthy living from this day forward. The long-term effects of living a healthy lifestyle are priceless.

More holiday health tips

Best mind-body workouts to start now
Eat well to be well: Avoid colds and flu
Easy ways to unload holiday stress