How to Survive the Season of Overindulgence

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’Tis the season for overindulgence — holiday parties, family gatherings, piles of cookies and candy all over the office. And while it can be difficult (if not downright impossible) to avoid all those temptations, you can help offset some of the negative health effects of straying from your normal healthy diet.

The secret weapon? Exercise.

A 2013 study found that just one week of eating 50 percent more calories than normal can impair insulin sensitivity. But that research was based on people who were sedentary. So researchers at the University of Michigan decided to test the same scenario — but this time using lean, active adults as subjects.

“In conditions of excess food, there is more circulating fat interfering with the normal function of tissues that are not supposed to have fat (like muscles and the liver),” explains Alison C. Ludzki, first author on the study. But if you stay active, you may ameliorate some of that damage.

During this study, the subjects consumed 30 percent more calories than normal for a week, but continued their normal exercise routines — getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and at least six days of exercise during that week. The subjects had their glucose tolerance and abdominal fat measured before and after their week of overindulging. What the researchers found is that “overeating didn’t increase the protein content of the markers of adipose tissue inflammation or C-reactive protein,” says Ludzki. “Exercise seems to reduce inflammation.”

So as you head into the holiday eat-a-thon, the best thing you can do is keep your sneakers as close as the cookies. “The effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity and glucose control are fairly short-lived, so getting moving as often as possible would be beneficial when faced with holiday treats,” says Ludzki. “Even if it means squeezing in a shorter session.”

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Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.