“There’s a lot of sitting around eating and watching TV over the Christmas period, so family and fitness experts provide ideas on how to keep the whole family active and entertained while the telly’s switched off.

Thoughts of Christmas don’t exactly conjure up images of exercising, watching what you eat and looking after the family’s health.

For most families, the image is more of sitting in front of the TV scoffing, and banishing any thoughts about a healthy lifestyle until the new year.

But health experts stress that just a few small changes to this ‘let it all go for Christmas’ mentality could have a big impact on family health – and that doesn’t mean eating a salad for Christmas dinner and going for a family run instead of watching TV.

MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!), which runs healthy family lifestyle programmes, has produced a series of tips to help families keep active over the festive season, and avoid putting on at least some of the average 5lbs that Britons gain over the four-week Christmas period.

Jenny Rosborough, senior programme developer and trainer at MEND, says: “It can be really hard to stay healthy around Christmas, because there are lots of unhealthy triggers around, and you get into a routine of watching TV, eating chocolate etc.

“We want to encourage families to get up and get active, and eat in a healthy way as well.

“Only small changes need to be made to make a big difference, and families will be a lot healthier going into the new year.”

As far as eating’s concerned, MEND advises moderation rather than abstinence from ‘naughty’ treats.

“We definitely don’t forbid any treats – we want families to enjoy food over Christmas, but only eat the unhealthy foods in moderation,” says Rosborough.

This means making sure Christmas dinner isn’t too big, and includes plenty of vegetables, and not eating the skin off the turkey.

In addition, keep healthy snacks such as unsalted nuts, low-fat dips and vegetable sticks on offer, so children and adults aren’t reaching for selection box treats all the time.

To keep active, parents might start by buying a few activity-based presents, such as skipping ropes, footballs or bikes, suggests Rosborough.

In addition MEND has produced a few family Christmas activity tips, and Rosborough stresses: “The tips are all about playing and having fun with the whole family. The point is that eating in a healthier way and keeping active will give the family the energy they need to make the most of the Christmas period.”

The tips include: :: Take part in an indoor treasure hunt – hide some healthy Christmas treats or even the kids’ stockings around the house and garden with clues where to find them.

:: Play Santa’s Skittles, by using empty plastic bottles as skittles and a ball made from leftover wrapping paper to knock them over.

:: Play Active Pass the Christmas Parcel, by standing up as the parcel’s passed round, and doing star jumps if you’re lucky enough to get the parcel.

:: Take the kids carol singing around your neighbourhood. Even if you only visit a couple of houses, they’ll still have a good walk.

:: Play Christmas Karaoke where the family has to dance as well as sing.

:: Take a family walk, and try telling and acting out stories or reading out cracker jokes as you walk.

Instead of just visiting the local woods or park on a family walk, go for something a little more adventurous and head to a local National Trust property.”

Read more here and also see my advice about handling Christmas Shopping with Toddlers !

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