Do You Fear the Holiday Feast

The plastic pumpkin buckets filled with more candy-wrappers than candy littered about your house serve as a herald for the even more weeks of end-of-year holiday over-eating to come. Thanksgiving and Christmas loom large, as will our waistlines, with feast after feast laden with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. What can we do? Should we just throw in the towel now and hope to recoup our health after we've clinked the last glasses of champagne come the New Year?

Cheer up, Pilgrim! Veering madly off your diet for a week does not have to be a train wreck for your health. The key, as it is so often, is exercise.

Scientists from the University of Michigan crunched the numbers. They set out to discover what would happen to people's fatty tissue if they continue to exercise during a week-long bacchanalia.

The researchers recruited four lean and active adults, aged between 21 and 26 years. They defined “over-indulgence” in their experiment as consuming 30 percent more calories in one week than they normally did. The team presented their research at the American Physiological Society Integrative Biology of Exercise VII meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

Earlier studies have shown that as little as one week of overeating can impair glycemic control and insulin sensitivity. And of course there is no shortage of studies that show how exercise has a protective effect against metabolic impairments caused by eating too much. There was, however, extremely little data regarding the specifics of how exercise affects the structure and function of fat tissue.

The UMichigan team had their subjects maintain their regular exercise regimen during their week of feasting. For these volunteers, that meant at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and at least six days of exercise in the week. The scientists measured glucose tolerance and abdominal fat samples before and after the week of overeating.

Their thesis was that regular aerobic exercise during a week of overeating would protect metabolic health, preserve lipolytic response - the breakdown of lipids - and prevent inflammation of the fatty tissue.

And they were proven right!

“Overeating did not increase the protein content of markers of adipose tissue inflammation or circulating C-reactive protein content of markers of adipose tissue inflammation or circulating C-reactive protein,” said Alison C. Ludzki, first author on the study. The subjects also experienced no change in glucose tolerance or lipolysis.

“Our preliminary findings expand on existing work to support a protective role of exercise in the metabolic response of adipose tissue to brief periods of overeating,” the team summarized.

So eat, drink and be merry – just keep hitting the treadmill everyday, and you'll be fine!