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All this holiday frivolity can throw your fitness plans a curve

Somewhere, between the cookies and eggnog, reality strikes: You skipped going to the gym for the third time this week, and last week you didn't work out at all.

But the holiday party invite for the night before was too good to turn down, and that last-minute shopper's sale at the mall was impossible to pass up.

Too little sleep, too much alcohol and not enough exercise can make the holidays a tough time to maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, aren't we supposed to be having fun?

"Go off your diet or exercise plan, and that's OK," said Caryl Wesley Steiner, a Clarence psychotherapist. "But try to get a little exercise in - take a walk around the block or do some stretches - because any focused movement will help relieve stress. Be careful you don't overdo the sugar and caffeine and the alcohol. Those are the three big baddies."

If you do indulge - and for most of us, it's inevitable - get back on track and spend the next day regrouping. Don't skip meals. Make sure to have breakfast. Get to the gym and burn off some of those extra calories. Above all, remember this bit of advice from personal trainer Al Lewis:

"Don't deny yourself," said Lewis. "If you don't eat until dinner, guess what happens at night? You binge. That's your body letting you know that you did not fill it up enough. You didn't take in the right amount of calories you need. When you binge at night, that's where the weight gain comes in."

>Mind

Having a stress-free holiday requires advance preparation. First off, give yourself permission to say no. Do not make excuses for not wanting to go to Aunt Rosa's holiday food fest - just say no and be OK with it, advised Clarence psychotherapist Steiner.

"If you make up some fancy story to tell the person, you're going to feel crummy about that," said Steiner. "You should say: "No, I don't do this anymore' or "It just does not fit where I am right now.' "

Maybe the reason to avoid Aunt Rosa's is because of a certain family member who gets on your nerves. If that's the case, avoidance is key. But if skipping the event becomes impossible, cordiality is the way to survive. "If you know where the sore point is, don't go there," Steiner said. "Don't take anything personal, that's the big thing. People do what they do because that's what they do. It's not about you. It's where they are coming from. It has nothing to do with you. You have to realize they would say the same thing to whomever else."

Let's say that despite all of your armor, your snarky uncle gets to you with his annual remark on your lack of a spouse.

"Pretend you didn't hear it," said Steiner. "Just let it go by the boards, and don't get into power plays or resentment or spite or any of those negative things. Put your mind on something else, like playing with your little nephew."

>Body

Morning workouts set the tone for a healthy day, no matter what the season. Revving up your metabolism early not only burns calories, it gives you a healthy mind-set.

"Make exercise the first thing you do," said personal trainer Lewis, who trains at Allentown Athletix and the Jewish Community Center. "It doesn't mean you have to go to the gym. It could be walking around the mall or housecleaning."

Just make sure you grab something to eat.

"You should always eat something before you work out," said Stacy Berman, a Manhattan personal trainer who runs outdoor fitness programs. "If you're waking up a few minutes before you go, make a hard-boiled egg the night before."

Motivation is another concern. A trainer can't force you to work out. And while Christmas may be the season of magic, no trainer can work miracles.

"I have a client who wants to lose 20 pounds by New Year's," Lewis said. "I told him it's not going to happen. Exercise should be a habit. It can't be short term. A trainer can help, but you also have to help yourself. I tell all my clients: I'm not going to get you in shape. We're going to get you in shape."

What happens, if despite all of your planning, you can steal just 20 minutes for exercise? Interval train, suggests Berman, by alternating strength training (30 seconds or a minute of squats, push-ups or lunges) with cardiovascular drills (jumping rope or jumping jacks or riding a stationary bike or jogging on a treadmill).

"You build muscle with strength training," said Berman. "The more muscle you have the higher your metabolism. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you will burn. While you're burning the calories, your heart rate will be elevated. Going back and forth will give you general health, fitness and conditioning."

>Heart

Cardiologists call it the holiday heart syndrome, when a little too much alcohol causes your heart to go out of rhythm and into a tizzy.

"The classic case is called atrial fibrillation, where the heart runs wild," said Dr. Stephen Sinatra, during a phone interview from his Connecticut office. "The very fast cadence in the chest will cause people to become lightheaded and short of breath. The heart skips a lot when people drink alcohol."

Sinatra, author of "Reverse Heart Disease Now" (November 2006/Wiley) suggests snacking as the best way to keep optimal meal balance despite a helter-skelter schedule.

"Go for pears because of the fiber content," suggested Sinatra. "One pear is five grams of fiber. Cherries are the best fruit because they're a little bit lower glycemically and they have an enormous amount of antioxidant value. Snacks will hold you over and they won't make you ravenously hungry."

For a rich but sensible party food? Go avocado.

"Avocado dip is rich and creamy and does not elicit an insulin response," said Sinatra. "Avocados have a lot of fat, and a lot of antioxidants that make you absorb vitamins and minerals very well. Add some onion and cilantro and olive oil and you think you died and went to heaven."

e-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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