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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Holiday Season

Steve Vighetti, MPT, MTC, CSCS

 With the holiday season behind us it’s a good time to take an inventory of the past six week’s carefree celebration.  “I’m not going to eat THAT much again” is a familiar theme from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.  Starting out with good intentions is one thing but while tempting food is passed before you the thought of exercise is slowly pushed out of your mind.  Next thing you know, it’s January 2nd and you’re back to work wondering when your belt shrunk. 

 First, the Bad…Most media outlets report on average, Americans will gain 7-12 pounds during the holiday season.  Individual support these numbers in various surveys reporting gaining at least 5 pounds this time of the year, but this may not be accurate.  The National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests the average weight gain is actually 1 measly pound.  People blame increased stress, changes in smoking habits, the number of parties attended and lack of activity for their new, holiday weight.  But, the NIH reports it is simply due to too much food and not enough activity. 

Now, the Ugly…While a gain of one pound is better than five, most Americans can’t seem to lose it.  That means with each holiday season, a one pound gain—in addition to any other weight gain during the year—may be the one ‘gift’ that is never returned and stays with you for a lifetime.   

When measuring obesity a Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated based on height and weight.  Anyone with a BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight and a BMI greater than 30 indicates obesity.  Recent studies indicate 1/2 of all adults are considered overweight while another 1/3 is obese.  In the younger population, 18% of all school-aged children and teens are defined as overweight. 

The risks of being overweight or obese go well beyond the cosmetic.  As the BMI increases, so does the risk for heart disease and heart attack.  In addition, obesity can lead to congestive heart failure, a very serious condition where the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands.  Other conditions related to being overweight or obese include, but not limited to, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers such as colon, breast, and gallbladder, and osteoarthritis—a common and painful condition of the large, weight bearing joints (knees, hips, and low back).

Finally, the Good…It doesn’t have to be all bad news.  Reducing the risks mentioned above can be achieved in the same time it took to put on that one pound.  Positive results can be seen from exercise programs but with what kind and how long?  Before answering, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest consulting your physician first to ensure no medical complications will harm or hinder your progress.

 According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guideline for Americans there are 2 types of physical activities providing the greatest health benefit—aerobic activity and muscle strength training.  At a minimum, adults should perform moderate aerobic exercise (brisk walking, bike riding, and swimming) 2 hours and 30 minutes per week AND 2 days of strength training focusing on the major muscle groups (back, chest, legs, hips, shoulders and arms).  It may sound like a lot but it does not have to be done all at once.  Try doing a 10 minute vigorous walk 3 times per day for 5 days.  (That’s do-able)  Just make sure the 3 bouts of activity last at least 10 minutes.  As your condition improves, gradually increase the intensity.

 So even when all the gifts under the tree are gone, you can continue to give yourself a gift you deserve.  Include a friend and they benefit too.  Simply begin your New Year by resolving to stay committed to a healthier lifestyle.  You’ll reduce your chances of serious diseases associated with being overweight thus ensuring you will be around to enjoy the holidays for many years to come.

 Sources: National Institute of Health and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 Steve Vighetti is a Fellowship trained physical therapist with over 12 years experience.  He is also a Certified Strength and Condition Specialist as well as a Certified Manual Therapist.