WEDNESDAY, Nov. 27, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Hoping to counter
all those Thanksgiving calories with extra exercise?
A recent study suggests the strategy may not keep off holiday
Researchers followed 48 men and 100 women for the six weeks
between the Thanksgiving and New Year's celebrations. They ranged
between 18 and 65 years of age.
Half reported being serious, regular exercisers. On average,
they said, they worked up a sweat almost five hours each week,
nearly double the amount of moderate physical activity recommended
by the American Heart Association. The other half copped to being
Researchers weighed and measured each person to calculate their
body mass index (BMI) before and after the holidays. They also
gauged their percentage of body fat and took their blood
From mid-November to early January, people in the study gained
an average of one-and-a-half pounds. Men gained slightly more,
around two pounds each, while women gained a little less, about a
A pound or two may not sound so bad, but studies have found that
on average, people gain about two pounds each year. It's called
weight creep. And studies have found that once most people put it
on, they never take it off.
After 10 years of small annual increases, that's an additional
20 pounds of fat. That means holiday weight gain could be a more
important factor in the obesity epidemic than many people realize,
said researcher Jamie Cooper, an assistant professor of nutritional
sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
People who were obese at the start of the study had the biggest
increases in weight. They also had significant rise in their
percentage of body fat. In fact, starting weight was the best
predictor of how much weight and body fat a person might gain.
Exercise had no significant impact on holiday weight gain.
Researchers aren't entirely sure why.
On the one hand, Cooper said it could be that the study didn't
have enough participants to detect small differences in weight
change between exercisers and non-exercisers.
But she said the results could also mean that people were just
eating far more calories than they could burn off, even with all
that physical activity.
"If you think about going for a run, if you run for 30 minutes and you run three miles during that time, you burn about 300 calories. Well, one piece of pumpkin pie without anything on it is about 300 calories," Cooper said. "So, it's really easy to eat all those calories that you burn during exercise and then some."
Exercise also boosts appetite, which can lead to even more
Cooper said that means there really is no substitute for
moderation during the holidays, a time when foods are much more
likely to be loaded with fat and sugar and hidden calories.
Despite the disappointing results, one expert said the study
shouldn't be an excuse for people to abandon their workout routines
over the next few weeks.
"Exercise has numerous benefits beyond just regulation of weight," said Joy Dubost, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The study found that exercisers may have maintained an advantage
over non-exercisers: Their blood pressure tended to stay lower
through the holiday hustle.
Dubost thinks that the problem with the holidays isn't just a
big meal here or there, it's a mindset of indulgence that people
tend to adopt between now and the end of the year.
"Typically what happens on Thanksgiving Day doesn't necessarily just stay for that day. It tends to trickle into an eating pattern that can stay with you through the holiday season," Dubost said.
"Then you step on the scale and it's gotten away from you," she added.
The study was published recently in the
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
For more on weight management, head to the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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