What do Monopoly and calories have in common?

Eating, drinking, and board games are big in my family on Christmas Day. Apparently, this isn’t unusual: 50% of Britons gobble up double their recommended calorie intake on 25th December (alcohol often tipping the calorie balance), and 75% sit down to play at least one board game. In my experience, neither of these things encourages festive peace and goodwill. Apparently, ‘Monopoly’ is the likeliest game to spark a Christmas Day row, and I would hazard a guess that this probability increases in direct proportion to the number of glasses of [insert drink of your choice] consumed.

So, anyone for an orange juice and a game of Snakes and Ladders? Hmmm.

Monopoly and calories have more in common. First, the phrase ‘Get out of jail free’ seems applicable to both Monopoly’s Community Chest and to the justification we use to warrant consuming anything and everything in the house on Christmas Day simply because, well, because it’s Christmas Day (free calories, right?). Second, both activities are generally undertaken whilst sitting indoors.

So what does this mean? (I will get to my point eventually – this blog was/is supposed to be about outdoor exercise!).

Essentially, this means that on Christmas Day we Brits tend to eat, argue, and remain inactive on the sofa in excessive amounts. Often, the good intention to set out on a post-lunch walk is overridden by bad weather, feeling ‘too full’, a long-drawn-out game of Monopoly, a family argument…

Granted, it’s Christmas Day. But ask yourself: How long do your Christmas ‘Get out of jail free’ excuses last for? And what if that foray outside your front door was just what you needed?

Increasingly, research is showing that outdoor physical activity has significant advantages in comparison to no exercise (well yes, Captain Obvious) but also to exercising indoors. First there’s the psychological benefits. Recent studies1 have involved volunteers completing two walks of the same time or distance, one inside (usually on a treadmill) and one outside in the fresh air and natural scenery. In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more. Further, volunteers scored higher on measures of vitality, pleasure, enthusiasm, and self-esteem, and lower on measures of tension, depression, and fatigue, after walking outside.  A study with older adults2 additionally revealed that volunteers who exercised outside were more likely to exercise longer and more frequently (on average, 30-minutes more per week) than those who exercised indoors. The physiological link between outdoor exercise and the dispositional and motivational benefits outlined is currently unclear. However, some studies3 have found that following outdoor exercise, individuals have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who have exercised indoors.

Second, there are distinctive physiological benefits to exercising outdoors. For one thing, even subtle changes in wind resistance and terrain tend to make outdoor exercise more strenuous. Studies comparing the exertion of running outside with running on a treadmill4 have found that outdoor runners expend more energy to cover the same distance. This same pattern is mirrored in cycling, where wind drag demands higher energy expenditure when cycling outside for 25-miles, compared with riding the same distance on a stationary exercise bike5.

Collectively, the research take-home point seems to be that exercising outside can (a) improve our mood and (b) burn off our Christmas dinner more quickly. So, arguably, another link between Monopoly stresses and festive calories?

As a final thought, what also strikes me is that the research suggests that you don’t have to walk (or even run!) any great distance to experience the psychological benefits of outdoor exercise. Incorporating a brisk 30-minute walk (to the shops, to see a friend, with your dog) into day-to-day activities can be planned easily; is free and accessible; and, it seems, can be highly beneficial should you have just landed on Mayfair three times running, or have over-indulged this Christmas!



1. Thompson Coon, J., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J., & Depledge, M. H. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (5), 1761-1772.

2. Kerr, J., Sallis, J. F., Saelens, B. E., Cain, K. L., Conway, T. L., Frank, L. D., & King, A. C. (2012). Outdoor physical activity and self rated health in older adults living in two regions of the U.S. The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, 4615-4625.

3. Logan, A. C., Selhub, E. M. (2012). Vis medicatrix naturae: Does nature ‘minister to the mind’? Biopsychosocial Medicine, 6 (11), 1751-1759.

4. Jones, A. M., & Doust, J. H. (1996). A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. Journal of Sports Sciences, 14 (4), 321-327.

5. Jobson, S. A., Nevill, A. M., Palmer, G. S., Jeukendrup, A. E., Doherty, M., Atkinson, G. (2007). The ecological validity of laboratory cycling: Does body size explain the difference between laboratory- and field-based cycling performance? Journal of Sports Sciences, 25 (1), 3-9.

Something to ‘slim into’

Do you ever remember a parent buying you school uniform that was at least two sizes too big because you’d “grow into it, darling”? In my case, my mother’s estimations were particularly over-enthusiastic and I spent the first five years (i.e. all) of secondary school in a blazer that would have been more suited to a six-foot rugby player. Or at least that’s how it felt.

Buying clothes for ourselves as a ‘grown-up’ however is a whole different ball game. For women, the buy to grow into mantra is flipped on its head entirely. In fact, a recent online article reported that 28% of women have bought items that are too small for them as inspiration to slim. I do wonder whether they hide their new item from their partner or whether they showcase their amazing bargain (!) before revealing that they intend to “slim into it, darling”.

My question is, does buying clothes that we simply cannot squeeze into before losing 6lbs act as a motivation to lose weight? – be that by adopting an exercise regime or a healthy eating plan, or both. Can I, for example, buy a spangly new dress for my work Christmas party and expect instant inspiration to drop a dress size in four weeks?

I’m afraid the short answer is no.

One in six British women (17%) are clinging onto clothes they bought too small, in hope that it would spur them on to slim down, but to no avail. These women were on average aiming to lose a stone in weight. The result is that the typical British woman harbours £173 worth of clothes that she has no intention of wearing but can’t bear to throw out. The latter figure I’m sure is inflated by unwanted gifts, lost receipts, impulse buys and the like (possibly clothes hoarding?), but my point is: Statistically, the act of buying clothes too small in itself is not necessarily good for our figures or for our purses.

Nonetheless, presumably some women did slim into their purchases. The 11% of women who ‘purchased too small’ but don’t still have these outfits in their wardrobe are not accounted for. We have to assume that either they did reach their target weight or that they passed the items onto a friend/charity shop or flogged them on eBay. If the former and more optimistic account is true, then my next question is: HOW did these ladies use their shopping ‘habit’ to their advantage and lose weight? And how can others do the same, should they spot the Christmas party dress or January sales bargain and opt for a ‘snug’ fit? I’ve outlined five key motivation-building pointers below:

1. Set goals. Not just a vague goal (“I’ll fit into that dress at some point, maybe next Summer”). Set a main longer-term goal that determines WHAT you want to achieve, e.g. “I will lose 3 inches around my waist and look great in that dress by my birthday”
Then set short-term goals that will determine HOW you will get there, e.g. “I will…go jogging with a friend two mornings per week….go swimming one evening per week…drop my daily dessert” and so on.

Write these goals down (it will help you commit to them), and make sure that they fit into the SMART template below:

Specific – Get as much detail into your goals as possible
Measurable – How many inches will you lose? How many miles do you want to be able to run, in what time?
Agreed – YOU should set these goals (with guidance if needed, e.g. fitness trainer, nutritionist)
Realistic – Being over-ambitious can be de-motivating, so set moderately difficult goals that will challenge but not overwhelm you
Time-based – Set a target time, e.g. lose X lbs by X date; be able to run X miles in Y minutes by Z date

2. Work with someone else. Exercising or setting healthy eating plans with a friend can provide motivation via useful advice, encouragement and support, enjoyment, and even friendly competition.

3. Hang your clothes somewhere prominent. Don’t just chuck them in the back of your wardrobe, use them as a visual aid. Every time you see them, they’ll drive you towards your target and remind you of your progress.

4. IMAGINE wearing those clothes. The image you create must be positive, e.g. wearing your new outfit to a friend’s party and feeling fabulous. Make this picture as vivid as possible. How will you feel when you wear it? What will your partner/trusted friends say? Try using different perspectives – first and third person. The mind can be an incredibly powerful motivator.

5. Monitor your progress. Either write in a diary or on a calendar, use an excel sheet or an app, or chart progress on a graph. This will keep you focussed on your goals and is a great way of logging and reflecting on your progress.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2413630/British-shoppers-hoarding-4-67bn-worth-unworn-clothing–bought-sales.html