science of us

Don’t Fall Into This Thanksgiving Fitness Trap

Photo: Liza McCorkle/Getty Images

If you’re an American, over the next couple days, you’re probably going to be eating a massive amount of food. There also probably aren’t going to be many opportunities to exercise, and even when these opportunities do present themselves, you’ll likely lack motivation and/or have to fight the effects of being utterly stuffed with stuffing. It’s easy to shrug and say, “Hey, this time of the year is a lost cause, and I’m eating so much that going for a walk won’t make a difference, anyway.” But don’t — there’s solid evidence that even if you’re gaining weight, a bit of exercise can help shield your body from the worst effects of gluttony.

For a study published in 2013, for example, a team led by Jean-Philippe Walhin of the University of Bath overfed a group of young men for a week. Half of the men exercised vigorously every day; the other half didn’t. The researchers set things up so that, even accounting for exercise, everyone gained about the same amount of weight. The exercise, they found, “counteracted most of the effects of short-term overfeeding and under-activity at the whole-body level and in adipose tissue,” despite the weight-gain. The results echoed those of a smaller, similar 2008 study led by Todd Hagobian of UMass — Amherst.

Now, in both these studies, the activity in question was pretty vigorous, and researchers are still trying to figure out the mechanisms by which exercise helps protect us against, well, us. But they suspect that you don’t need to hop on a treadmill for 45 minutes to garner some benefits. “I think we could presume that if people went for a long walk or something like that on a daily basis, hopefully we’d see the same benefits,” Wahlin told me last year. Hagobian doesn’t think it would have to be that long: “I think 30 minutes or so would work,” he said in an email yesterday.

So, on Thursday, even if you stuff yourself, try to find an excuse to at least go for a walk. Like maybe right around when your relatives start arguing over Obama’s recent immigration order.

Don’t Fall Into This Thanksgiving Fitness Trap