As a Health Editor, I'm anti-Christmas workout challenges - but I made an exception for this one and it's boosted my energy, mood and more

It's the only one I've ever stuck to in December.

Christmas workout challenge: Health Editor Ally Head after a workout
(Image credit: Ally Head)

Let's be honest: it's ridiculously busy right now, and I know I'm not the only one who feels it. Every time I sit down to relax, I remember a work to-do that needs to be ticked off before the end of the year, present that needs to be wrapped, or house chore that can't wait until 2024. That's why, despite being a Health Editor, I'm normally vehemently anti any form of Christmas workout challenge. 

Not sure you follow? Well, during an already heightened time of stress for many, adding yet more to-do's to your list (which you'll inevitably feel guilty about if you don't get done), in my opinion, isn't the best approach. Working out is meant to be about boosting your health and mood, not guilt or shame. And while a couple of missed workouts won't make a difference to your fitness levels, you're bound to remember skipping family events or social occasions in favour of a workout for a long time.

It's a fine line and one I constantly tread as a marathon runner and Health Editor, but this year, I decided to make a pact to myself after a particularly busy November. The aim? Not to let the Christmas season get the better of me, and to make time for both social events and some form of movement each and every day. Sure, some might call it a Christmas workout challenge, but for me, it was about slowing down and taking time for myself during a busy month so that I'd be able to be fully present around friends and family.

Spoiler alert, which you've probably already guessed: making the time to move your body every day is pretty game-changing and I can't tell you how much my challenge has boosted my mental health, mood, and fitness, too. Keen to read how I got on? Well, you'll have to keep scrolling. Don't miss our guides to the best morning workout routine, simple home workouts, and what happened when one MC UK staffer tried a skipping challenge, while you're here.

I'm vehemently anti-Christmas workout challenges - but the one I've tried this year has completely changed the game

What is a Christmas workout challenge?

In short and to state the obvious, it's any workout challenge that you take on in the lead-up to Christmas to hold yourself accountable and keep your body moving. 

There are absolutely loads on offer - from Run Up To Christmas, a 25-day long-running challenge aimed at raising money for charities including Mind, to The Body Coach's 12 days of Christmas challenge, to coach Lottie Murphy's annual mindful movement challenge

It's important to opt for an option that works for you and your schedule - for example, if movement every day simply isn't an option, Joe Wicks' offering may be best for you. That said, bear in mind that high-intensity exercise can be quite taxing on the joints if you're recently recovering from injury, so it might be worth opting for Lottie's soothing Pilates flows and only ticking off workouts on the days you can do, instead.

Similarly, you can of course make up your own Christmas workout challenge, as I did - more on that later.

Why did I decide to give one a go?

Good question. I've told you my thoughts on Christmas workout challenges - and trust me when I say, I've tried a fair few in my time. In previous years, I've found them restrictive rather than motivating - they didn't help me to find joy through movement, instead, made it feel like a chore.

That said, this year, I wanted to make time for movement, mind and body, and felt making a pact to move every day was the best way to do so. Some days, that meant going for a morning walk, other days, a quick 20-minute home strength session did the job. The beauty of making up my own was that there were no hard and fast rules - it was all about moving in a way I enjoyed that would boost my mood and health. 

Pros of doing a Christmas workout challenge

Of course, the pros of making time for movement in December are obvious. The benefits of exercise are well documented and research-backed, with one 2018 study nodding to the "overwhelming evidence" that workouts improve your health span, delay the onset of chronic conditions and diseases, and boost muscle tone, mental health and mood. 

While December may seem like the hardest time to motivate yourself to get moving, it's also arguably the time when both brain and body might need those handy feel-good endorphins that exercise releases the most.

That said, it's always a fine line, and weighing up whether pencilling in workouts each day will alleviate or add to your stress levels is key. Know this: you know your body and your brain better than anyone else, so it's important to work out what works for you. If you'll feel best come the end of the month having taken 31 days to rest and recuperate, more power to you. If you're someone who gets an energy boost from moving, then a Christmas workout challenge might be for you. 

So, what does an expert reckon? Lillie Bleasdale, qualified personal trainer and Head Coach at Train Passa, stresses that keeping yourself dedicated to training over the festive period can be a difficult task. "That said, holding yourself accountable or adapting your plan over the festive period could provide some much needed headspace and help you to prioritise a little self care, as well."

Her advice? "The key thing is being honest with yourself," she shares. "Ask yourself: what is truly feasible over the festive period? If you usually train in the gym four times per week, perhaps over these few weeks this needs to be reduced to two or three times per week." Don't stress about losing fitness - this will only allow you to hit the gym in January refreshed and ready to go for the new year, rather than rundown, ill, or exhausted, she goes on. 

Another important thing to note: you don't have to stick to your usual method of training, she shares. "Perhaps you're normally a gym bunny, but actually over the next few weeks increasing your step count and time on feet is going to be how you can get your movement in," she adds. "That's great - you're still making progress in the best way you can over these next few weeks."

I tried a Christmas workout challenge - and I'm a convert

Having just come off the back of a particularly busy (and non-active) end to November, I was craving routine and a good workout or two. That's where the idea for the workout challenge came from, really - feeling sluggish and lethargic after a week of late nights, on-the-go food, and not much movement. Knowing that that's how December could spiral unless I set some intentions, I got out my journal and made a simple pledge for the month. This was as simple as:

  • I'll move my body in some way every day.

Week one

Week one, and I'm off to a good start, kicking off the day with a five-mile run. It's cold, but my mood is instantly boosted for getting out of bed and lacing up pre-work. The next day, I make time for a 25-minute strength session during my lunch break and feel great for having taken some time away from my desk for myself. Winding down for bed, I also opt for a quick 10-minute Yoga with Adriene flow before lying on my acupressure mat - one of the simplest ways to boost zen, fast.

I know my schedule and it's always best to front-load my week with movement as the end of the week is often the most busy, which means finding time to exercise gets more tricky. That's why, on Wednesday morning before work, I head to the gym for an interval session on the treadmill. This is one of my favourite ways to lower my stress levels - sure, I may be tired, but it's incredibly cathartic, and I'm feeling really buoyed by the time I'm carving out for myself.

As predicted, Thursday and Friday are incredibly busy, with our work Christmas party on the Thursday evening. That said, I make a concerted effort to hit my 10k step count on both days - all movement counts, after all. 

While the majority of the weekend is spent Christmas shopping and celebrating with friends and family, I do get up early on Saturday for a 5km race in my local park and head on a long, soul-soothing walk come Sunday. Come the end of week one, I feel relaxed and content - a far cry from last year's Ally who was arguably reaching burnout. 

Week two

Week two and I'm certainly feeling tired and a little groggy after one too many festive drinks at the weekend, but I still make time for a short but sweet 25-minute strength training session during my Monday lunch break. Focusing on these bitesize exercise snacks has been really key for me this month - anything longer and I just won't have the time, meaning I'll skip the session, resulting in no movement at all.

Come Tuesday, I'm determined to get a workout in but am so tired, I snooze my alarm and give myself 30 extra minutes in bed. A great idea at the time, but not so much when it's pouring with rain come lunchtime when I've finally headed out for my run. Still, I'm glad I've taken some time for myself during a busy day (even if it is cold out and I get drenched).

Wednesday, I get off the tube early on my way to work to get a brisk morning walk in, and make a conscious effort to do the same on Thursday, too. I'm really enjoying these morning walks, and notice both my energy levels and mood are more stable for doing so. 

Come Friday, I'm pretty sedentary all day, so my fiance and I run to our local squash court that evening for a match. Sure, I might not be the best, but I love working out with my partner - booking in a time slot and then heading together makes it more sociable, a sure-fire win if you're low on motivation.

Saturday is another speed session at the gym and Sunday is a long walk (for pastries, admittedly, but what's Sunday without a visit to your local bakery?). 

Christmas workout challenge: Ally on a run

Ally on one of her December runs

(Image credit: Ally Head)

Week three

Week three, and it's nearly Christmas time. I can't believe how quickly the month has flown by but more importantly, how good I've felt for prioritising movement, sleep, and good quality food (with plenty of treats sprinkled in, too). 

I kick off the week with a run commute to pick up a present - another great way to get moving if you're low on energy, as it gives you a clear route and purpose. Yesterday morning, I ticked off another 25-minute strength session. The rest of the week looks like much of the same - quick morning yoga flows, strength sessions, and runs when I have the time.

This month, movement has felt empowering and mood-boosting, and I'm so glad I've prioritised making time for myself so I can in turn be fully present at a family-orientated time of year.

Would I try a Christmas workout challenge again?

Short answer: Definitely, but only one that leaves me in control of my workouts and what I do each day. It's been incredibly cathartic, the key being squeezing in what I have time for rather then fixating on hour-long sessions that inevitably don't get one.

Now, question: will you give one a go? 

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Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.