Ho, Ho, Whoa!

In just a few weeks folks will be flocking to the gym as part of their New Year’s resolutions. Yet the time to be doing that is right now, while all the tasty cookies, chocolates, egg nog, and more cookies are making the rounds.

Even if you still wind up eating too much, bouts of exercise can counter some of the bad metabolic changes that follow from just one week of overeating. So say researchers at the University of Bath. Their study appears in the current issue of The Journal of Physiology.

In the study, young men in their twenties were asked to overeat. The control group limited their physical activity to less then 4,000 steps per day, while the test group added daily 45-minute sessions of treadmill running. The test group also upped their food intake even more, so both groups had about the same number of excess calories. (The researchers used the term positive energy balance, but that sounds way too perky and upbeat when you’re struggling with weight.)

Even with the excess calories, the exercise group had better results for measures such as insulin action and fatty tissue. In short, calorie balance is not the only thing going on. “[E]xercise has positive effects even when we are actively storing energy and gaining weight,” noted researcher James Betts in the press release accompanying the report.

Of course, what the researchers called “bouts” of exercise are actually pretty substantial. Get 45 minutes of vigorous exercise per day, and that’s 315 minutes per week. That’s more than twice the minimum 150 minutes per week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In other words, if you’re going to overeat, you need some serious exercise to counteract the physical effects.scale

And while the young men in the Bath study weren’t overly worried about a couple of pounds, that’s a real problem for many people. Contrary to past media reports, the average American doesn’t really gain 7 to 10 pounds during the holiday season. Yet even a one-pound gain over four weeks is a problem if the weight stays on and doesn’t come off. And research shows that people who are already overweight are likely to gain up to 5 pounds.

Even though I fully intend to work exercise into my already hectic holiday schedule, it’s going to get tricky. It’s hard to take long walks outside when sidewalks and streets are icy. Too much snow will also close down the gym—and the forecast shows more snow on its way here this week.

So, despite the new study, I’m planning to eat a few less cookies and chocolates this holiday season. And I’ll head up to the gym regularly before January 1 too!


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