Go ahead—feast on your favorite foods this season, but if you want to avoid gaining weight, you're going to have to mix in some exercise along the way

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
November 07, 2016

The holiday season is here-and so are all the fun things that come with it: parties, feasts, and oh-so-many treats. (Hello, 10 worst holiday party foods you totally have to avoid.) But when it comes to your fitting comfortably into your New Years Eve dress, those extra calories can add up fast. This year, instead of ruining all the holiday fun by calorie-counting, simply squeeze in a workout. Exercising consistently can protect you from the ill effects of up to a week of overeating, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

To test to effects of the mentality that "it's the holidays, so I'm going to eat whatever I want," researchers asked adults to either continue their normal exercise routine of about 150 minutes (that's 2.5 hours) of aerobic exercise at least 6 days a week or to not exercise at all-all while eating 30 percent more calories than usual for one week. The results: People who overate but didn't exercise gained fat and saw increases in markers for heart disease and diabetes (no surprise there). But for the people who kept up their active level (albeit, even a very moderate activity level), the exercise acted as a health shield, protecting their fat tissue from changes in inflammation and fat metabolism (or the body's ability to break down fat into energy).

Want to make this work for you? There are two crucial pieces of information to keep in mind. First, this only works for brief periods of indulging. Working out sadly doesn't give you license to eat whatever you want for the next two months. Second, the more consistent you are with exercising, the more protective the movement. So that means amping up your regular workout routine now will help carry your protection through the holiday season, but exercising here and there and falling behind your schedule between Thanksgiving and Christmas won't yield the same results. Bonus: You'll have a leg up on all the gym newbies come January.

Need ideas? Start with our Black Friday 20-Minute Workout or use your favorite party outfit as fitspo with our Rock Your Holiday Dress Workout. Traveling too much to hit the gym? No excuse! Use our Stay Fit On the Fly Workout. Feeling lazy? Then the I-Don't-Feel-Like-Working-Out Workout is your answer. (We've even got you covered with a killer workout playlist of holiday tunes.) But the real message here is whatever you do, do something-and enjoy every bite of Grandma's once-a-year holiday trifle.

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