Maria Torcia-Burke, co-owner and founder of Body Balance Center coaches Glenna Castle, mom of 3, with an exercise.

Fit for
the holidays

There are many ways to fight off
the season's temptations and calories

Staying fit during the holiday season is no easy feat. Excess Halloween candy and treats will be lingering around the home and office in just a few weeks. And that's just the start, as our lives become inundated with even more lavish treats, stress and overloaded schedules.

Even those who regularly work out may find it difficult to keep to a regular formal workout, but there are some simple tricks that can help many get through these next few hectic months, with minimum waistline impact. Body Balance Center founder Maria Torcia-Burke each year is witness to the same sad drama of people wreaking maximum havoc on their bodies between October and December, then expecting to work off the damage for a full recovery in January.

The Pilates instructor suggests another scenario.

"Keep as active as possible," she said. "Walk everywhere and take the stairs as often as possible."

Believe it or not, the little things will add up, and while others are trying to get in shape in January, you'll be running productive circles around them.

Les Tin, a fitness manager at 24-Hour Fitness, agrees that workouts don't need to be long and torturous. Thirty minutes, a few times a week, can produce desirable effects, he said. If time is short, he suggests doing one set of exercises, instead of your usual three. "Any activity helps," he said.

Maria Torcia-Burke and her husband Rick Burke, above, run Body Balance Center, specializing in Pilates.

Forbidden foods are always a problem during the holidays, and while food gifts are customary, no one says they need to be evil choices. "Instead of bringing cakes and cookies to the office, bring fruits and vegetables," Torcia-Burke said.

Eating on the run is another problem during the holiday rush. Those who snack constantly find themselves unable to stop for physiological reasons. "The mind takes 20 minutes to realize it's full," Torcia-Burke said. "People need to sit down and eat -- and have small meals."

Eating healthy is half of the battle, added Tin. If activity is down, the amount of calories consumed needs to be decreased, he said. Tin also warns people not to fall for the "fad diets" that promise quick results.

"Lots of people cut out carbs to make sacrifices. After the holidays, they go back to their normal eating habits and pay back the interest," said Tin, who says "there is no bad food group" and it is not healthy to remove an entire food group from the diet. "People can eat whatever they want within limits. It's easier to blame the bread than to work harder."

Another important factor in keeping weight down is the control of blood sugar. "Otherwise, people will binge and eat anything -- especially if they have been starving themselves," Tin said. Beginning early November, 24-Hour Fitness is implementing a program that measures a person's metabolism, he said. By knowing one's metabolic rate, individuals will be able to gauge how many calories they need to consume. "As long as they don't exceed that number, they will either maintain their weight or lose weight," he said.

The fitness or balance ball is another means of getting into shape and can be easily used in the home whenever one has a spare minute. A ball can be purchased at Sport's Authority for $27.99.

"The ball is a good friend to have, instead of being on the floor with a flat surface. You can do a total body workout with the ball," Torcia-Burke said.

All mat work can be done on the ball. And, the exercises can be as challenging as you want, she explained.

She even suggests using sitting on a ball at a computer instead of a chair, which she says helps to relieve the compression of disks that make sitting for long periods of time hard on the spine.

Steven Stiefel's "Weights on the Ball Workout" (Ulysses Press, $14.95) provides a comprehensive guide to using the ball along with a weights regiment.

Exercises are included to suit all skill levels. The step-by-step pictorial guide demonstrates how to strengthen all muscle groups, from triceps to calves. Stiefel has been a health and fitness writer for more than a decade and is currently the nutrition editor at "Flex" magazine.

Exercise leaves people feeling better about themselves, to the point where it changes dietary habits. "They don't want to leave and eat a Big Mac."

She said that she's seen Pilates change entire silhouettes. "People get stronger, without getting bulky. There is a lot of emphasis on core strength these days."

"Old or young, it's all the same," Torcia-Burke said. "Everyone just needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

Body Balance Centre

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