From Christmas Day swims to Christmas tree flings, there’s no excuse to be a couch potato this festive season, with lots on offer to get you and your loved ones up, out, and on the move, writes Susan O’Shea.
Think about it: The average person puts on half a stone over Christmas, and some of us even more than that, so while we all like to take to the couch, selection boxes at the ready, it’s also important to get out and about during the festive period — and more importantly get the kids off the gadgets — at least for a couple of hours a day.
Trevor Woods, UCC exercise physiologist, Department of Sport & Physical Activity, admits it can be challenging to keep active at this time of year, as we naturally move into a more relaxed, celebratory mode. Practically, it’s about trying to get some level of physical activity up over the festive period.
“The key is making it fun, and it doesn’t all have to be outdoors. Give teenagers a bake-off challenge, or get them to make a meal for the whole family, while this isn’t physically demanding, anything that gets them off screens is beneficial.”
Rather than just suggesting ‘going out for a walk’, which is likely to be greeted with groans, Trevor suggests setting a challenge or a goal in order to get people motivated, like ‘let’s see if we can get to the top of that hill’ or promise a treat at the end, like a clifftop walk in beautiful Ballycotton, around Charles Fort in Kinsale, or in Gougane Barra, followed by a trip to a coffee shop.
“The trick is to keep it reasonably regular rather than a three-hour burst, and then nothing for the rest of Christmas.”
And in terms of overindulgence, Marie Sheehan, senior dietitian at Cork University Hospital, says: “While Christmas is a time to enjoy ourselves, we need to be mindful of what we eat.
It is often the extras such as desserts, snacks, and alcohol that add in the unwanted extra calories. Staying active will help work off some of those additional calories.”
See the Irish Nutrition and Dietetics healthy eating tips for Christmas on indi.ie.
While not for the faint-hearted a Christmas Day swim is a great way to shake off the cobwebs and boost the circulation. And, as many of these swims are done for charity, you also get to enjoy the feelgood factor that comes with raising money for a good cause.
If the idea of just wearing a swimsuit and Santa hat is too hardcore, you could always cheat a little and opt for a wetsuit.
Most swims have a noon start time (to allow plenty of time for that all-important present opening), and some of the more popular spots around the country include Bundoran, Co Donegal, Forty Foot, Skerries, and Clontarf, Co Dublin, the Cope Galway Christmas Swim in Galway Bay, which last year attracted 450 revellers, and Derrynane and Fenit, Co Kerry.
Fenit is one of the largest in Munster, with hundreds of people taking to the sea at Lockes Beach at 12pm and Mrs Claus on hand to see them off.
Popular spots in Cork include Myrtleville and Inchydoney, where several hundred regulars take to the seas annually.
Veteran Christmas Day swimmer Peter Walsh says: “A Christmas swim has to be one of the best ways to break up an otherwise very long day. A feeling of now I’ve gone out and done something useful I can justify eating my own weight in food.
Besides the apprehension of how cold the water will be on the day, there is always a feeling of achievement and exhilaration after the event and it’s great to see it supported in such large numbers.
“This year I will take part in the 26th annual Whitebay Christmas Day Swim, near Trabolgan, Co Cork, in aid of Cork Simon.”
See corksimon.ie for details and sponsorship cards.
If you think it’s too cold for the kids, have them waiting on the beach with a big towel and a flask of hot chocolate.
And the advice from the experts is to first splash some cold water down the back of your neck to prevent cold water shock, and to ‘get in, get out, and get warm’.
Christmas Day runs are becoming increasingly popular, are a great way to get some fresh air before getting stuck into the turkey, and again raise some much-needed funds for charity.
One of the biggest, countrywide charity runs is GOAL Miles. Now in its 36th year, the event sees tens of thousands of participants run, jog, or walk a mile on Christmas morning and raise funds for GOAL’s programmes in the developing world.
See goalglobal.org/events/event/goal-mile to find a Goal Mile near you, or you can even organise your own event. Registration is optional, and if the mood takes on the 25th, then you are free to show up on the day.
Parkruns have become phenomenally successful over the last number of years and there are now an astonishing 93 different runs across the country, so there is bound to be one near you, with over 181,000 runners participating to date.
For the unfamiliar, they are free, timed 5km runs on Saturday mornings at 9.30am and open to everyone from experienced athletes to beginners to juniors.
See parkrun.ie where you can register, print your barcode, and bring it with you. Don’t worry about being left behind: Parkrun volunteers or tail walkers are always on hand to bring up the rear so you won’t face the ignominy of being the last one home.
If running is not your thing, don’t despair. Set 10,000 steps a day as a target... it’s not as difficult as it sounds to achieve, and if you don’t own a Fitbit, an app downloaded on your smartphone will keep you abreast of progress.
Most people like to put down the box of chocolates and head out on St Stephen’s Day after being cooped up indoors all day on the 25th, and while horse racing festivals are a popular choice, particularly Leopardstown and Limerick, they are more likely to get the hearts racing and the wallets empty then helping to burn off those festive calories.
The hunt is also a popular activity on the 26th, but is not to everyone’s taste, and while following the ‘Wren Boys’ is great craic, unfortunately, the tradition is dying out, and only features now in a handful of towns and villages, with Carrigaline, Co Cork, and Dingle, Co Kerry, boasting two of the best.
A great community-based activity on offer right across the country is the Poc Fada. Most GAA clubs organise their own, usually taking place over a 5km course, with teams made up of mixed abilities.
See gaacork.ie for a list of all the clubs in the city and county which are holding Poc Fadas this year, with start times and entry fees.
There are usually refreshments on offer back in the clubhouse, and it’s a great way of shaking off the stupor of Christmas Day.
While inclement weather may deter many people from moving off the couch, there are plenty of indoor activities designed to get you moving.
While many families like to include a trip to the cinema, you are essentially swapping one seat for another, just with popcorn and coke thrown in.
A better alternative might be laser tag: 30 minutes spent stalking your nearest and dearest in a bid to ‘take them down’ is a great way to get the adrenaline pumping, and even work off some of that festive frustration which has undoubtedly built up.
A family game of bowling, while it may not be a great calorie burner, at least means you are up and moving and it’s hard to stare at a screen when you have a 10kg ball in your hand.
If sea swimming is a step too far, most local pools will be open over the Christmas period, and if you are enjoying a few nights’ break-away in a hotel, a dip before hitting the buffet breakfast is always a good idea.
If you find yourself climbing the walls at home, then why not take it to a new level and head to a purpose-built facility, where you can put your strength and courage to the test.
Awesome Walls or the Mardyke Arena are just some of the facilities which offer wall climbing and bouldering.
Trampolining is one of the best exercises ever devised, with rebounding effectively causing all 37 trillion cells in the body to move up and down. Jump along to Airtastic for 60 minutes of adrenaline-fuelled fun.
Family board games are another way of getting teens, in particular, off screens, says UCC’s Trevor Woods. If they are hard to convince, try motivating them with a cash prize for the winner.
And if there’s a game of Twister lurking somewhere in the house, get it out, dust it down, and get moving.
And don’t panic, escape rooms are the perfect way to get the family working together. Locked in specially designed rooms based round a particular puzzle or concept, only teamwork and ingenuity will get you out (or some hints from helpful staff if you are really stuck.
For the ultimate experience, head to Boda Borg in Lough Key Forest Park, a Swedish concept that has two storeys, 47 rooms, and enough puzzles to challenge any budding Sherlock Holmes.
Adventure centres have been having a difficult time of late with many coming under huge pressure over soaring insurance premiums, and some even having to close their doors as a result. While many close down part of their activities in the winter, others are more fun the wetter and muckier it is.
A handful of examples are Kilfinane Outdoor Education and Training Centre, Carlingford Adventure Centre, and Fota Adventure Centre. Everything from kayaking to bog-snorkelling and archery, orienteering, and bushcraft is on offer.
Explorium in Dublin is Ireland’s first sport and science museum, and as well as giving the old grey matter a workout, you can test your strength with the hanging tough challenge, channel your inner Messi with a shootout against a robot goalkeeper, compare your speed with that of Usain Bolt in the running challenge, or see how fast you can really floss.
There is also one of the world’s largest indoor caving structures, which, at 150m in length, will have you on your knees and crawling, twisting and turning for hours.
Or you can climb to new heights in Conquer Your Fears or Urban Climb. These are not included in the Explorium admission price and must be booked separately. See explorium.ie for more.
While many of the activities so far mentioned have a cost involved, the beauty of the woods, apart from their natural beauty of course, is that they are free, and no matter where you live, there is sure to be one nearby, with 260 Coillte sites around the country.
For a bit of adventure, don some headtorches and go for a night-time walk. Just make sure you are familiar in advance with the route.
Smaller kids can be entertained by splashing in muddy puddles (don’t you just love Peppa Pig?), games of hide and seek, or spotting the fairy doors now found in many of the woods. See awaywiththefairies.ie for a list of the best fairy trails.
UCC’s Trevor Woods says to tailor the walks to suit younger members of the family, and slings and baby carriers can be used for the very young.
“At this time of year we only get eight hours of daylight, so get out and make the most out of it and the small amount of Vitamin D on offer. Exposure to natural light lifts our mood, makes us happier, helps us sleep better, and can compensate for the blue-light exposure we get from screens.
“Teenagers, in particular will feel better and and get a boost of those feel-good hormones.”
Use up that leftover ham and turkey by packing a picnic, yes it’s cold, but that’s part of the fun.
The 5km Ballyhoura Nature Trail is great for smaller kids as they have to keep their eyes peeled, while ticking off their findings on a nature trail guide.
Admittedly it’s a harder sell for the older ones, cue eye-roll, so for something a bit different, head to Zipit at Farren Woods, Cork, Tibradden Woods Dublin, or Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon.
Yes, there is a cost involved but it can take the brave at heart the best part of four hours to conquer all of the courses and swing among the treetops.
Fota makes for a great visit at any time of year, but at Christmas you don’t have to deal with the flocks of tourists attracted there in the summer.
Wrap up well, as it can be bitterly cold and remember the park has the earlier closing time of 4.30pm in the winter.
Wild lights at Dublin Zoo, a spectacular night-time experience, is open daily from 5pm-9pm up to January 5, with advance booking necessary, and is a great way of seeing the zoo in a whole new light, with ‘Stories, Myths, and Legends’ the theme for this year,
Open farms are also a great way of getting outdoors, particularly with younger kids. Cork has three great options with Rumleys, Leahy’s, and The Farm Grenagh, or head to Ardmore Open Farm in Waterford, or Kennedys Pet Farm in Killarney.
There’s plenty of space to run around, animals to pet, and coffee shops serving home-baked treats at the end.
This time of year is also perfect to get your skates on... literally.
The ice rinks are open for business, and if you are brave enough to try and harness your inner Torvill and Deane, it can make for 60 minutes of action-packed fun. You can burn anything from 250-600 calories in 30 minutes, depending on how many twists and spins you manage.
While unknown in this country up until a few years ago, there are numerous venues to choose from including Dublin’s Dundrum on Ice, Ice Skating Blanchardstown, and I-skate which is part of Funderland in the RDS.
In Cork, Cork on Ice has moved to a new home in Centre Park Rd, with plenty of parking and less of the congestion that came with Mahon, Limerick on Ice is back in action on Arthurs Quay, while Winterval in Waterford has a particularly festive feel to it.
While the Waterford Greenway is a great spot for a family cycle, it can be a little crowded at weekends, even in winter time.
A less well-known but equally scenic cycle is the relatively newly opened Suir Blueway, in Co Tipperary.
Hugging the River Suir, from which it takes its name, it’s a 21km cycle along a refurbished tow-path, is mostly flat, and if you are lucky you just might get to spot some otters along the route.
If you don’t have your own bikes, then you can hire them from Treacy’s in Carrick-on-Suir, and either return them there or cycle all the way to Clonmel, where they can be picked up.
Other routes include the Old Rail Trail Greenway from Athlone to Mullingar, and Ireland’s best known route that runs along the Wild Atlantic Way, from Achill to Westport, and taking in the very scenic towns of Newport and Mulranney,
If, like me, your garden has been much neglected of late, then use one of the days over Christmas to get those jobs done that you’ve put on the long finger.
Leaves tend to be everywhere at this time of year, and if left to rot on tarmac can be impossible to remove.
Get the wheelbarrow and rake out, and you’d be surprised how quickly you work up a sweat, and it’s something the kids are happy(ish) to help with.
Get rid of slimy/slippy patches on the patio with a deck brush or pressure washer, and clean out gutters and blocked drains.
If you have a compost heap, turn the contents to help them decompose, and if a burst of really cold weather is due, then cover it with an old piece of carpet or plastic sheeting to prevent the stuff becoming too cold or wet to rot.
You could also clean up any rotting and finished plants if you didn’t get to do this in autumn, get your soil ready for spring, and replenish your mulch.
While many of us may wake up a little worse for wear on New Year’s Day, a great way to greet 2020 is to head for the hills.
Last year we joined a motley crew who climbed Galtymore, meeting at the carpark at 9am. While we had experienced map readers and climbers in our midst, we also had a six-year-old girl who put many of us to shame by bounding up the hillside.
It was a tough enough climb, but the weather was fab, and we were rewarded by spectacular views and warm soup at the top.
Carrauntoohil is another great challenge, but make sure you’re well-equipped, well-prepared, and the weather is right. Ireland’s highest peak is not suitable for the inexperienced.
The Sheep’s Head Way makes for another Great New Year’s Day hike, a 200km trail between Bantry and Dunmanus Bay, so there are plenty of routes to choose from, or if you are on the east coast, head to Bray and walk the old head to shake off those cobwebs.
No, we don’t mean the type that will end in divorce, though January is the busiest time of year for people seeking advice on separation.
Disposing of your Christmas tree has never been easier with tree-throwing contests becoming a festive calendar regular in Europe, and Ennis has got in on the act in recent years.
This year it will hold the 9th Annual Irish International Christmas Tree Throwing Competition on January 6, the day when traditionally the decorations come down.
Organised by Active Ennis, Clare County Council, last year’s event saw over 150 participants compete to see how far they could fling a tree.
It’s a family affair, with a category for the U10 boys and girls, 10-14 year olds, and a male and female adult category.
Throws last year ranged from 4m for the U10s, to a mighty 7m for the winning male. If you don’t fancy trekking to Ennis, organise your own event for family and friends... all you need is a tree.