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Study: how exercise helps when you overeat

overindulgedHow many of you went a little overboard with eating this holiday season?

Don’t worry – you’re not alone. I can’t even type the word “gingerbread” without getting a stomachache.

Luckily, I also stuck with my running routine from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. And if you did, too, new research says that all of those extra calories won’t have a negative impact on your health.

The study
We all know that staying active can help combat holiday-related weight gain. But a new study published in the Journal of Physiology says that maintaining an exercise routine during a period of overeating can keep your blood sugar levels and fat cell behavior within a healthy range.

Researchers from the University of Bath studied twenty-six fit men to determine the impact of physical activity on health after a week of consuming excess calories. They were divided into two groups:

  • One group ate 50 percent more calories than normal for the week and did not exercise. Researchers made sure they took fewer than 4,000 steps (approximately 2 miles) per day doing normal daily activities such as working, doing housework, and other tasks.
  • The second group ate 75 percent more calories when compared to their usual intake for a week, but ran for 45 minutes each day on the treadmill at 70 percent of their VO2 max.

The active group ate more so that the net caloric excess would be similar between both groups – because the runner group would burn off more calories through exercise. The goal was to have both groups have the same net caloric excess so the only difference between them would be their activity level.

Still, the between group differences were noteworthy:

  • The inactive men suffered from poor blood sugar control and experienced negative alterations in fat tissue genes.
  • The active men had stable blood sugar control and their fat cells showed significantly fewer changes than the inactive group’s.

The bottom line
This means that despite overeating considerably, people who remain active throughout the binging period fare better health-wise than people who are sedentary. In other words, runners’ bodies can handle bouts of overeating better than people who don’t exercise. It’s important to note that both groups of men were described as “fit” before the study – and that simply being fit didn’t protect the men from the unhealthy effects of overeating if they didn’t exercise.

Of course, this research can be applied to more than just the holidays. For example, if you’re going on a week-long vacation and know you’ll overindulge, be sure to pack your running shoes!

Written by Jen Matz.