Let’s just cut the B.S. and say you’re probably going to overeat this week. After all, the typical Thanksgiving feast runs in the 4,500-calorie range. Then there are the hefty leftovers, the weekend brunch, and finally the pizza because you’d rather watch football than make a grocery run.
It sounds like an awesome reward for that pre-holiday mad dash at work, but it’s bad news for your body. Research shows that even just one week of overeating can spike inflammation and hinder glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
Now for some good news. There’s an easy way to counteract the negative effects of stuffing your face: exercise. According to new research from the University of Michigan, if you keep on working out over the coming week, you can enjoy the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy guilt-free.
In this small pilot study, participants ate 30 percent more calories for a week straight while they continued to exercise. By the week’s end, they didn’t have the inflammation markers that popped up in past studies of people who overate but skipped exercise. In fact, the exercisers' glucose control and insulin sensitivity were unchanged despite packing in so many extra calories.
Over the holidays, almost everyone has some sort of obligation — family in town, a cross-country flight, manning the turkey — that prevents them from getting out and moving. But you don’t have to run a marathon or spend two hours on the weights to benefit. Just getting a little movement every day will keep the potatoes from taking a toll.
Here's how to handle exercising on Thanksgiving:
Do a little something every day. Rather than trying to double down on exercise some days and skipping it on other days altogether, it’s better to try to fit in at least some physical activity every day. “A lot of exercise’s benefits for metabolic health are related to each individual exercise session,” Alison Ludzki, lead study author from the University of Michigan, says. “So even if you’ve been training consistently but stop for a few days, your insulin sensitivity can go down. But it also works the opposite way: If [you] do just one exercise session, you’ll improve insulin sensitivity.”
Run. Even if jogging isn’t your usual jam, a quick 20-minute run is, “a very time-efficient way to get in your daily dose of exercise,” Ludzki says. When staying with relatives and nowhere near your gym, or if you have just a small window between prepping entrées for the feast, it doesn’t get much easier than lacing up your sneakers and darting out the door.
Grab a relative and walk. Big group walks are great, but they usually move at a snail’s pace. To make a walk really count for exercise, you have to make it brisk and get your heart rate up, says Ludzki. Here’s where you grab that cousin you’re stoked to catch up with and duck out together.
Spearhead an active group outing. On the big day, why not get everyone into a big flag football or soccer game? Figure out a group activity that gets your whole crew moving for a decent stretch of time and, hopefully, it’ll become a tradition.
Do HIIT. If high-intensity interval training isn’t part of your usual routine, this week is the perfect time to try it. Whether you do sprints outside, hit your rowing machine for a speed session, or stop by the gym for some quick, hardcore intervals, “it really pays off to work very hard for short bouts,” Ludzki says. “You’ll get an entire solid workout done very quickly.”
Do exercise you actually like. If you only have time for one kind of exercise, focus on whichever you like best this week. “Both cardio and strength training are important because they each have unique benefits, but if you’re short on time, choose your favorite,” Ludzki says. “You’re more likely to actually exercise if it’s the kind you like most.”