The Christmas break is fast approaching and with it comes the many joyful aspects that the Festive Season brings – holidays, no sport, plenty of food and beverage, and an opportunity to get all that hard “around the house stuff” completed. Whilst we suggest you all enjoy the rare opportunity for a break, it is also potentially a really critical time to keep looking after your body, and don’t make the Christmas break a “total break” from fitness and conditioning!

Losing fitness is what we call detraining or deconditioning, and it actually happens quite a bit quicker than you think! Unfortunately the research suggests that if you do absolutely nothing for 3-4 weeks, you will have lost a large component of any strength and conditioning you previously had built up!

The good news is that ANY reasonable physical activity will help maintain some conditioning, therefore minimising the deconditioning effect. And if you can fit in one or two high quality exercise sessions a week, you can really have a positive effect on maintaining your conditioning.

As a general rule, the loss of aerobic capacity occurs more rapidly than declines in muscle strength, so the main focus in doing some form of exercise over the festive period would be to maintain one or two aerobic sessions per week. This could be as simple as a 30 minute brisk walk, a bike ride, or a swim – anything that will elevate your heart rate and bring you to at least a light sweat.

Studies are also suggesting that higher intensity (and as a result, shorter duration) exercise really stimulates mitochondria production – mitochondria are small structures inside human cells that produce energy, and mitochondria tend to reduce in number as we age. So anything that stimulates the number of mitochondria should have an associated effect on our energy levels! The great outcome of this research is that we don’t have to exercise for extremely long periods to gain health benefits. Most people are quite “time poor” these days, and the old excuse of “I don’t have enough time to go for a run” doesn’t hold as much weight as it once might have.

There was a fascinating piece on the Catalyst program (on ABC TV) regarding High Intensity Exercise ( ) – check it out if you get time. Now I don’t personally believe it’s as simple as doing 6 minutes of exercise a day, but this Catalyst documentary does provide food for thought!

Here’s some thoughts to consider:

  • If your kids get a ball for Christmas, turn the play into a game – for example, don’t just shoot hoops with them, play a 1:1 half court game for 15 minutes.
  • Don’t drive down to get an ice cream on a hot day, ride a bike!
  • One of my bug bears: when you’re walking the dog at the park or beach, don’t stand in the middle chatting – walk!
  • When it’s lunch time during the test match cricket, go for a 40 minute walk and put yourself back on the couch just in time for the afternoon session!
  • If you’re a regular walker, try and do some brisk walking for 2- 3 minute intervals during your longer walks.
  • Get Runkeeper or Strava on your smart phone, and set yourself some small challenges each week – it’s amazing how motivating it is to track your times and distances and activities over a daily or weekly period.


There are so many ways we can turn a relatively low exercise time or activity into a really valuable exercise session, it just takes some thought…and motivation! Remember, simple things can make a big difference, but the take home messages are:

  • You will decondition quite a bit if you do absolutely no form of exercise over a 3-4 week period.
  • Maintaining most of your conditioning is as simple as completing 2 or 3 good exercise sessions per week, of around 30 minutes or more.
  • Varying the pace and intensity of your exercise will also have a great effect on your aerobic conditioning, particularly if your exercise session is going to be less than 30 minutes.


A few other simple things to consider as well over the Christmas period:

  • Any weight gain will increase your injury risk, and reduce your fitness levels. No exercise, lots of beautiful food, and the many functions to have a beer with a friend, are all components of a deconditioning and weight gain process.
  • Strength is also a big part of fitness, so if you get to a gym, try not to miss a week. Make sure you do some weights or resistance work, or even try some simple theraband exercises at home which is a brilliant way to maintain some simple shoulder and core strength. If you’re going away, have your SSPC physio produce one of our great online exercise programs that you can follow from your ipad or smart phone.
  • Because many people are on annual leave at this time, the big “around the house” jobs are usually embarked upon – the landscaping, the tree lopping, the cleaning and shifting, the painting etc. Please keep in mind that heavy, long, awkward and arduous tasks are a big risk factor in the development of low back pain. Even more so if you are coming from a sedentary job where sitting forms the majority of your daily work life. So be very careful with these jobs – think them out, plan carefully, and perhaps break the task into components to be completed on different days. Variation is great! And always remember the old saying “bend your knees and keep your back straight”! And try not to bend or lift when in a rotated spinal position as well.


Over the Christmas and New Year period, SSPC remains open on all but the public holidays. And you can guarantee that every time we come back to work after a public holiday in December and January, there are at least 2 or 3 phone messages from people who are in dire straits, having significantly hurt their backs usually whilst out in the garden (which is why we now run an emergency advice service on these days)!

So that’s it for now – SSPC passes on its best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas period to all our patients and their families, and we look forward to continuing to be involved with you all in 2017. And remember – maintaining condition may be as simple as a 30 minute walk with a few brisk intervals!