Although estimates vary, some people put on about five pounds over Christmas, with up to 6,000 calories consumed on Christmas Day alone. When you include New Year’s Eve and everything in between, it’s no surprise that people find it so easy to gain weight.
Unfortunately, no matter how much exercise you do, this is going to be almost impossible to burn off over the Christmas period alone. Your body simply can’t burn calories fast enough to out-exercise all the extra food you’ll be eating. So the approach to Christmas and New Year is more about damage limitation than trying to avoid it completely.
Over the next few weeks, Christmas parties will make it a lot more difficult than normal to get your workouts in. But the fact that you can’t stick to your normal exercise routine doesn’t mean you have to abandon it completely.
Research shows that just two weekly workouts are enough to maintain most of the fitness you already have, which is going to make returning to your normal routine in January a lot less painful than it otherwise would be.
On Christmas Day itself, or in fact any day when circumstances may make it impossible to go to the gym, you should still try to go out for a run, long walk or bike ride wherever possible.
This has a number of important benefits. Firstly, you’ll burn off a few extra calories. Depending on what you do and for how long, this may only amount to a couple of hundred calories. Compare this to the several thousand you might eat and it’s not much, but it’s still better than doing nothing.
Secondly, a bit of physical activity on Christmas Day will help you resist the temptation to continually snack. Even if you simply head out for a brisk walk after Christmas lunch, you’ll find it easier to apply a bit of self-control.
Finally, exercise has important physical benefits that extend beyond simply burning off excess calories.
A new study from researchers at the University of Bath shows that just a week of overeating and no exercise can lead to a decline in blood sugar control. It can also have a negative effect on the genes responsible for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
But subjects who went for a run every day, despite eating the same number of excess calories, were not affected in the same way.
“Exercise seemed to completely cancel out many of the changes induced by overfeeding and reduced activity,” says Professor Dylan Thompson, one of the authors of the study. It shows you can enjoy yourself without letting it all come crashing down.