The holiday season has arrived and many are ready to dive into their favorite homemade dishes with the promise of exercising off those extra calories, as their New Year’s resolution. A study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that, after consuming high-calorie food and drinks, exercising may not be enough to ward off those extra holiday pounds.
Researchers from the Texas Tech University monitored a total of 48 males and 100 females (age 18 – 65 years), with the average body mass index (BMI) of 25 for six weeks, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s celebrations.
The half of the participants, on average, reported exercising five hours per week, double the recommended exercise time suggested by the American Heart Association. The other half of participants infrequently exercised.
The participants visited researchers in both mid-November and early January for evaluation. Each of the following measures were taken during the participants’ evaluations: body weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure, and body mass index. During the six week holiday period, the participants gained an average of approximately 1.7 pounds (0.78 kilograms). According to the researchers, this finding “indicates the majority of the average annual weight gain (1 kg/y [2.2 pounds/year]) reported by others may occur during the holiday season.”
These findings show 22 pounds of fat can be gained during a 10 year period. Since the holiday weight gain can contribute to approximately 1.7 pounds of the 2.2 pounds gained per year, holiday weight gain could be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic more than people realize.
Exercise did not protect the participants from holiday weight gain and was not an important predictor for fluctuations in body weight or body fat percentage. Instead, body weight and body fat percentage were the best indicators for how much an individual might gain. Obese participants had the biggest increase in weight and percentage of body fat.
Though researchers are not exactly sure why exercise had no significant impact on the holiday weight gain, Jamie Cooper, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University, noted one reason could be that the study did not have enough participants to distinguish modest differences in weight change between those who exercise regularly and those who did not exercise.
Despite the demotivating results, do not ditch your running shoes just yet. The study should not be an excuse for individuals to abandon their workout routines for the holiday season. "Exercise has numerous benefits beyond just regulation of weight," said Joy Dubost, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Weight gain may have not decreased with exercise during the holiday season; however, the study found that those who exercised regularly had lower blood pressure than those who did not, during those gluttonous celebrations.
Another major problem during the holiday season is that overeating doesn’t last just one or two days. "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. One thing learned from this study is that exercise does not substitute moderate eating.
Stevenson, J. L., Krishnan, S., Stoner, M. A., Goktas, Z., & Cooper, J. A. (2013). Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(9), 944-949.