A New Christmas Tradition: Take a Walk?

Christmas traditions around the nation and the globe seem to share one thing in common: They don’t involve much moving around.

People take an average of 1,403 fewer steps than usual on Christmas Day, according to data from about 500,000 wearers of Jawbone UP, the fitness tracker. Europe is the most sedentary on Christmas relative to routine — in Ireland, for example, people take 2,878 fewer steps than usual. Americans take 1,870 fewer steps.

A new Christmas tradition may make sense: taking a walk. A brisk walk burns three to six times as many calories as sitting still, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

There is some precedent for this. Boxing Day, a holiday on the day after Christmas in Britain and some parts of its former empire, still carries on traditions of activities like horse racing and hunting, and some relatively new traditions like swimming or dipping in the sea. (But it has also become a big day for watching soccer, which might be why even though Jawbone wearers start to move a bit more on Dec. 26, those in Britain do not.)

Activity declines throughout the holidays, according to Jawbone. And people eat a lot more. There is nothing wrong with taking a day or two off from activity, of course, before gearing up for the new year. But making small changes in your daily lifestyle is much more achievable than taking on a new, demanding diet or exercise routine. The American Heart Associationrecommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which it says can be done in 15-minute chunks, including low-impact activities like walking or climbing stairs.

The only countries where people walk more on Christmas than on the typical day are those where Christmas is not a holiday or where it is not commonly celebrated on Dec. 25. Russians take 621 more steps and Ukrainians take 236 more; they celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. In China and Japan, where Christmas is not a national holiday, people take a similar amount of steps or a bit more.

People might intend to start moving again after New Year’s, when resolutions kick in. But in the first five days of January, Jawbone found, Americans still take an average of 540 fewer steps fewer than usual.