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Moderate Eating, Not Extra Exercise, Key to Fighting Holiday Weight Gain

While our job is certainly not to discourage you from working out, we think that on health and fitness matters, it’s best to be well-informed than ill-informed. So here’s the well-informed take on fighting holiday weight gain: Your chances of keeping off extra kilos over the next month are greater if you practice restraint at the table than if you exercise more post-pigout.

That’s the conclusion of research recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at Texas Tech University tracked changes in weight, percentage of body fat, and blood pressure among 148 men and women from mid-November until after New Year. The study participants reported how much exercise they got. Half were sedentary while the other half reported that they were serious regular exercisers.

During the holidays, the study participants gained an average of 0.7kg, and increased their percentage of body fat and blood pressure. By way of comparison, the average weight gain per person per year is 1kg, suggesting that extra vigilance this time of year is warranted.

In the study, exercise didn’t have a significant impact on fighting holiday weight gain. There are two good, related reasons why that might have happened. First, as anyone who has suddenly upped her mileage can tell you, extra exercise can lead to extra appetite that seems out of proportion to one’s increased energy expenditure.

Second, it’s easy to overestimate the kilojoule burn of additional exercise. For example, if you go from 32 to 40 miles per week of running this holiday season, that means burning roughly an additional 2095 kilojoules per week. A handful of M&Ms at an office gathering and a Christmas cookie or two at a weekend party is all it takes to cancel out your extra energy expenditure.

The key to avoiding weight gain during the holidays remains moderating food intake, the study authors say. Of course, that doesn’t mean neglecting your workouts, or that there aren’t a million other good reasons to run regularly. If the holidays often sabotage your exercise routine, commit to running at least a two kilometres the rest of the year as part of our holiday running streak.

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