3 Tips for Healthy and Inclusive Holiday Programming

Holiday programming


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Make sure your holiday programming is both healthy and inclusive with these three tips.

Although it may feel as if the fall semester has just begun, we’re more than halfway to the end of Fall 2021. And that means the holidays are just around the corner. As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas — leaving fall events behind — recreation professionals look for ways to capture the interest of campus communities through the busyness of the holiday season.

We often go about this by planning common events and challenges seen on campuses across the country. These include Turkey Trots, Planksgiving challenges and Maintain Don’t Gain. These are just a few examples of familiar programs that are aimed at engaging participants and supporting the achievement of physical fitness goals throughout the season, especially when so many students are often at home for the holidays and not on campus.

EXTRA CREDIT: Here’s how your rec center can take advantage of the holidays.

While these types of programs can be fun and may capture the kind of audience who looks for motivation and wants to push themselves physically, these programs may lack the support that is needed by other members of the community who are not as motivated. Challenges that require the completion of a 5K, holding a plank for extended time or achieving weight loss can leave students feeling disappointed or discouraged in themselves. More so, these programs can make it feel that in order to enjoy the food and treats at the holidays, one must participate in a certain amount of exercise in a certain way in order to balance it out.

Here are a few things to keep in mind for healthy holiday programming for a broader group this year:

Highlight the Importance of Movement for Enjoyment

Offer programs that encourage movement for enjoyment. Instead of focusing on running a specific distance or maintaining the same weight throughout the holiday season, encourage student health by highlighting the importance of simply moving their bodies.

One way of going about this is to provide simple tips to move the body, such as:

  • Going for a hike to enjoy the fall foliage.
  • Walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights.
  • Go Christmas shopping in person to get the extra steps as you walk around each store or through the mall.

Incorporate Mindfulness

Emotional well-being is just as important as physical activity. Be mindful of the stress and anxiety students often feel throughout the holidays. One of the best ways to cope with the holiday stress is to cultivate mindfulness through practice. Offer programs including guided meditation and breathwork that help keep things in perspective during the season.

Avoid Using Physical Activity as a Form of Punishment

At food-focused holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we inevitably see stories informing us of how much exercise is needed to burn off all the meals and treats we’ve ate. The problem with this mindset is exercise should be a positive experience. It also implies every workout must be taxing and grueling in order to burn a certain amount of calories. This year, try promoting the idea that movement and exercise are more than burning calories and weight loss. Help students approach exercise as something to be grateful for and one of the best ways to take care of themselves.


Erin Stelma is the associate director for Recreational Services at William Paterson University. A New Jersey native, Erin earned her B.S. in Exercise Science at East Stroudsburg University and Masters of Business Administration at Saint Peter’s University. Throughout her 20-year career in the field, Erin has played a role in a variety of areas including health promotion, facility management, outdoor adventures, as well as staff training and development. However, her background is primarily rooted in both aquatics and fitness. She is also a huge advocate of holistic health and works to guide the campus community to optimal physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.


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