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Put Down That Drumstick, Get Off the Couch and Have Some Fun

By Howard Schneider
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

So no doubt we all overdid it last Thursday -- in all likelihood beginning Wednesday night when the family started arriving and continuing through a weekend of turkey sandwiches and cocoa and a few other drinks here and there.

And now the nation's not only getting broker by the minute but fatter as well, with no choice but to stuff the Christmas spending under the credit card limit and stuff whatever Christmas food comes along into our mouths.

But maybe there is a choice. At least the Health section's own Princess of Peas, Frances Stead Sellers, insists we should try to find ways for our readers to eat better and exercise a bit instead of rolling through the holidays like Jackie Gleason at a Shoney's.

Jennifer Huget is maintaining one Post tradition with the annual Holiday Challenge, prodding us to at least avoid gaining weight during the season and offering strategies for achieving that goal without becoming a total downer.

Vicky and I are starting another, the 12 Days of Doing Something Other Than Watching Football and Drinking.

It's a stupid name, I know, but it does kind of capture what I'm about at this time of year. Maybe Vicky will come up with something better, in which case she can brand her part of this however she wants.

Anyway, the idea is that over the next four weeks we are going to offer you 12 things to keep you moving in a seasonally appropriate way: i.e., stuff you can do with family and friends, not ripping your shirt off at a sub-zero tailgate party and doing the Hammer Time.

The theory is simple: Rather than punishing yourself over what you're not doing -- such as going for wonderful, brisk runs along the Potomac or getting up early for boot camp before work -- we are suggesting things that you might do because they are festive and fun (and, in addition, get you away from the refrigerator down in the basement that you just filled with seasonal beers and eggnog). Things such as . . .

Chopping Your Own Christmas Tree: A lot of us will be hauling fir trees of various varieties into our homes in the next couple of weeks, and for many that's as close to a forest as you'll get all year. This can be approached as a chore: Wait later than you should, race out in rush-hour traffic, hunt down the Boy Scout stand and find that they are sold out already, then pay 95 bucks for some scrawny stick and end the night feeling like Charlie Brown instead of a jolly old elf.

But why not make it more of an outing and do a bit of the work yourself? A number of farms in Maryland and Virginia let you wander their grounds, pick out your tree, saw it down yourself and carry it back to the car. There are lists of such locations at www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/MDxmasbalt.php and www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/VAxmastrees.php.

Okay, so this isn't heavy logging. But you'll be outside with your family. You can take your time picking out the tree -- regard it as a walk in the woods -- and maybe put together some garland bundles as well.

Every little bit helps, no? Three hours out of the house is that much less you-know-what. You can catch the game on the radio.

Dancing at Glen Echo Park: Men look at the world as divided between Those Who Dance and Those Who Do Not. This may be a more fundamental division among men than alpha vs. beta, conservative vs. liberal or boxers vs. briefs. I'm kind of a straddler: I don't mind trying anything if I can get lost in a crowd, but I will never be the first one on the floor. In the spirit of the season, I suggest we all get over it and try something new. Dancing of any sort is one of the best ways to get your metabolism moving without realizing it. It is a nice, light aerobic activity that folds into an evening on the town and out of the house.

Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County holds dances every weekend: waltzes, ballroom affairs, swing dancing, traditional square and contra dances, you name it. Admission is cheap $8 to $12), and there are lessons beforehand.

You can check out the schedule at www.glenechopark.org/calIndex.aspx?id=2. Some of the dances are open to all ages. Why not schedule two trips: one with your mate and one with the kids?

Rock Creek Park/National Zoo Walk, Plus Lights: I won't say I work out frequently in the main drag of Rock Creek Park, down near Calvert Street. But of the times I pass by there on my bike or in the car, it is rare to see people using the very nice exercise trail: wooden slant boards and chin-up bars, with instructions signs for how to use them.

Here's my plan for one weekend day: Park behind the zoo around mid-afternoon. Take a light jog or walk to Calvert Street and work through the course (no whining about the weather . . . wear a hat and gloves if necessary . . . remember to layer, and keep your outer sweat shirt or windbreaker dry). As it gets dark, cool down, walk up Calvert and pick a place for a light snack or meal or glass of . . . (am I supposed to say vegetable juice here, Frances?). Then walk up Connecticut Avenue to the zoo and take in the annual ZooLights display, which runs from 6 to 8:30 on weekend nights through Dec. 14, and nightly after that until the end of the month (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Details are available at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ActivitiesAndEvents/Celebrations/ZooLights/default.cfm. There is an admission fee ($12, $6 for FONZ members), but it is a nice display, a nice walk and a nice alternative to Arkansas State at Troy.

Now that we're off on a good foot, Vicky will extend the fun next week. I think she is writing about the benefits of aerobic caroling, in which case you can get the list of upcoming college conference championship games at http://ncaafootball.comand get some knockout punch recipes from drinknation.com's Christmas page.

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