Think you can sweat away holiday weight gain with exercise? Think again! A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that exercise has no significant impact on weight gain or loss during the holiday season. Participants gained on average between one and two pounds regardless of how much, if at all, they exercised! While a couple extra pounds might not ring any alarm bells, don’t be fooled into thinking you can lose holiday weight gain come January 1st. Studies have shown that people rarely lose the weight they’ve gained. A couple pounds every year adds up fairly quickly—10 years and you’re 20 pounds heavier!
Exercise Moderation More than Movement
Researchers split forty-eight men and one hundred women between the ages of 15 and 65 years into two groups: the regular exercisers who clock in an average of 5 hours a week of exercise, and the couch potatoes who confess to no exercise at all. They monitored participants’ body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, and blood pressure at the study’s start in mid-November and finish in early January.
Women gained an average of 1-1.5 pounds, while men gained an average of 2 pounds. Starting weight was the best predictor of weight gain. The more obese participants gained the greatest amount of weight and had the most dramatic rise in body fat percentage. However, exercise seemed to play no part in the holiday weight gain scenario. Those individuals who routinely worked out still gained weight.
Researchers do not know why exercise showed no significant impact. It may be that the study’s pool of participants was too small. It may be that people ate more calories during the holiday season than they could burn off with exercise. It may also be the effect of exercise on appetite. Exercise tends to stimulate hunger and trigger overeating. Either way, succumbing to a mindset of indulgence thwarts weight loss goals.
Exercise is a primary component of weight maintenance, but this study suggests that it must be coupled with good dietary decisions to make the most impact. By all means, exercise this holiday season for the health benefits alone! Study participants who exercised had the lowest blood pressure, after all. But exercising moderation in your food choices and portion control is perhaps the most important exercise of all!