There are a lot of decisions to make in December. I’m not just talking about deciding what you buy mum or dad: you have to decide whether you feel comfortable socialising, the financial burden of doing so and – if you are ready to party – to what extent you want to have fun. After all, ‘tis the season to let your hair down and, if you wanted to, there could be a reason to celebrate every night.
Realistically, we can’t do that. We have responsibilities, work, and our health to think of. Finding that balance is just about manageable year-round, but when it comes to December the temptation to opt for ‘fun’ over exercise or nutrition is even greater than usual. Therein lies the problem: the belief that partying – stereotypically drinking and staying out late – is enjoyable, and exercise is the opposite. I agree with the first half of that sentence. I take issue with the latter.
I get where this attitude comes from. Exercise is seen as the antithesis to fun because it is so often something that we have to learn to do. It is, unfortunately, called a workout after all. Most women in England don’t grow up being active (or tend to stop activities during puberty), according to Sport England. They tend to disgruntledly pick up exercise because they know that they ‘should’ in order to look after themselves. For many, exercise is also seen as a type of punishment, either for what they’ve eaten, are about to eat, or more generally a tool for trying to change something about themselves. Partying, on the other hand… well, you don’t need me to tell you that most people can naturally enjoy being around their friends with a drink in hand.
Except, the polarisation of these two activities is unhelpful. When it comes to Christmas, it’s supercharged. We have headlines telling us how to ‘maintain’ our workout routine, as though it is a burden to carry through December, a weight on the ankle of people at bars. Choosing to maintain exercise is seen as morally superior – yet totally boring, and often a reason for mockery – while parties are seen as socially superior, carefree, exciting. Surely there’s some middle ground somewhere?
I don’t believe that the middle ground lies in not drinking on nights out or leaving early to get a good night’s sleep. What’s the point in that? It means you’ll be doing everything by halves. In fact, I find it infuriating that people regularly act surprised when I have another drink in my hand or am one of the last standing. “Aren’t you supposed to be ‘healthy’?” friends of friends will ask me with a raised eyebrow.
I also don’t believe in extremes: please, please, please don’t go smash a HIIT session on a hangover. Instead, I think that we just need to stop seeing socialising and health as opposite ends of the spectrum. Actually, exercising can be very fun, and parties can be very healthy. Social health is the most important factor in a long life, according to one of the longest studies on human behaviour by Harvard. And we all know that movement releases endorphins and makes us feel great.
You don’t need to swap all exercise for partying, nor do you need to suggest that your office hit a treadmill class rather than the bar for the Christmas celebration. I’m saying we can do both. We can go to parties and we can exercise. We can eat canapes and we can eat real plates of nourishing meals. We can drink alcohol and we can drink water. That might sound silly because of course we can. You do that month in, month out anyway. Yet it’s a good reminder that having these two hobbies doesn’t make your life one of two extremes – they can both be things you enjoy.
The vision of standing in the gym alone at 7 am might not scream ‘fun’ to you. That’s fine, that doesn’t have to be your version of exercise – perhaps you can find joy in a boxing class or love running to a Christmas playlist. It might even be better for you to take low-intensity alternatives to avoid overstressing your body.
Personally, I find that prioritising movement first thing in my day – a gentle walk if I’m hungover or tired and a proper gym session if I’m not – means that I can then be present in the rest of my activities throughout the day. In that sense, movement makes my parties more enjoyable. I love the fact that these two parts of my life enhance each other, rather than oppose one another as we’re always told they do.
Remember that exercise is something you get to do rather than have to do and partying is something you can do rather than must do. That’s a good starting point if you’re trying to get to grips with what your body needs right now. There’s no moral value in either, you don’t have to identify as for or against either activity, you can simply just do both whenever you fancy.