For those of us who find it hard to stay away from the endless appetizer spreads, the Christmas ham, holiday beers, and eggnog over the holidays, take heart: New research suggests that getting in a workout can help prevent some of the metabolic damage done during bouts of overconsumption.
"A daily bout of exercise during the Christmas break will benefit most people," says Jean-Phillipe Walhin, a health researcher at the University of Bath who worked on the study. It won't necessarily keep you from gaining weight, says Walhin, but it could help your metabolism stay on track.
Researchers had 26 young, healthy men overeat for a week. About half of the men ate 50 percent more calories than normal and were sedentary, walking fewer than 4,000 steps a day. The other half of the men also walked less than 4,000 steps a day but added to that a daily 45-minute treadmill run. They also ate 75 percent more calories – meaning that, even with all they burned off during their workout, their net calorie increase was the same as the first group.
At the end of the week, the researchers took samples of the men's blood and fat. As expected, those who had been sedentary showed far worse blood sugar control and increased expression of genes involved in energy balance and in carbohydrate and fat metabolism. The men who worked out, on the other hand, didn't show these negative metabolic effects – even though they'd been eating more.
Other studies have found that working out can have big health benefits during times of overindulgence – particularly when you exercise first thing in the morning. Doing a strenuous cardio workout before breakfast, a 2010 study found, kept healthy men from gaining weight or developing insulin resistance when they started eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet. Another study showed that exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach can also help burn more fat without causing you to eat even more later in the day.