The holidays are approaching and, with them, the prospect of a new year. If you did not stick to your exercise goals like you had planned this year, do not wait for January to kick those goals in gear.

The increase in exercise can help you manage the extra calories that come with holiday parties and family gatherings. Keep in mind, exercise does more for us than just burn a few extra calories. Here are three ways regular exercise improves our eating habits all year long.

First, more time spent exercising means less downtime. Downtime can be dangerous. Boredom is an emotion, and it often leads us to the kitchen to find food to pass the time. Extra time in our day may result in more sedentary activities, like watching our favorite movie with snacks in hand — again. Well-earned downtime, after a long walk or run around the neighborhood, is much more gratifying.

Second, daily exercise reduces mindless snacking. It only takes one time to learn working out on a full stomach is not a good idea. As workouts get more intense, the timing of meals and snacks becomes more important. The temptation to binge on the office candy jar lessens as you focus on the fact that you would rather not suffer through your workout. This mindset naturally reduces extra calories that you would have casually eaten if you were not anticipating that afternoon Body Pump class you signed up for.

Third, exercise improves food choices. Certain foods make us feel better than others when we exercise. Scheduling a workout over your lunch hour is a great way to stay focused on what you eat through the morning. Or having an afternoon run scheduled with a friend can help you stay more mindful to drink extra water through the day. Scheduled exercise gives us more purpose in our eating, which builds mindfulness and accountability.

Regular exercise helps us use our time more efficiently, gives us something to talk about with friends and family, gets us outside, improves self esteem and confidence and yes, takes up time that we may have spent eating food we did not really need.

The calendar year does not have to dictate when you begin to achieve your goals. In fact, today is looking like a really good time to start.

Niki Kubiak is a registered dietitian who specializes in sports dietetics. She works as the director of nutrition and health at Infinite Sports World in Ralston. She writes regularly for livewellnebraska.com.

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