The Holiday season is a time for giving and enjoying the company of others. The problem that exists is there are usually more examples of receiving in the form of calories than giving. Following the “30-days of eating” often comes the guilt-driven five weeks of training. Five weeks represents the average duration of time participants engage in routine activity before the first wave of notable attrition occurs. The second wave typically occurs around 11 weeks and the third at approximately 5-6 months. Certainly, any effort is better than no effort, but there are a couple of issues with the holiday weight gain and this year, more than others, there may be some concerns with the industry trends towards high intensity training modalities.
The first issue comes from an article in the New England Journal of Medicine which suggests that most people gain only one or two pounds of fat following the holiday season. Which is not disastrous from a health perspective, but does equate to a caloric I.O.U. of 35-70 miles worth of running (an average individual will burn approximately 100 calories per mile run and there are 3,500 calories per pound of fat). The real issue with the one pound of weight gain is two-fold: 1) it often contributes to visceral adiposity as part of the feast/famine response to short-term over indulgence, and according to research, 2) contributes to lifelong weight gain. When an over abundance of calories are consumed for an extended period of time the body reduces the hormonally driven energy wasting response and shifts to a different hormonal drive to store calories viscerally. In early times man experienced feast and famine and as a natural defense, stored extra fat when feasting to support metabolism during periods of low caloric intake. The designed storage is called visceral adiposity; it is ideal for times of famine. Visceral fat is highly metabolic and is released into the blood stream efficiently to support the caloric effort of finding more food once the feasting period concluded; much in the same way squirrels store acorns for the winter feeding when food become scarce. The highly metabolic component of this visceral fat allows for it to be more easily burned, but creates blood lipid problems in the sedentary population as lipids are released into circulation without activity driven oxidation.
The second problem seems to compound the first. When people gain a pound of fat and do not increase physical activity, the fat stays on the body and contributes to creeping obesity over time. For those who decide to do something about it following the New Year, the issue becomes mental goal setting which is offset by the weight gain. For instance, if a person weighs 140 lbs in October and gains two pounds through November-December, the new weight is 142 lbs. Now if that person makes a New Year’s resolution to lose ten pounds, the goal weight is now 132 lbs instead of the 130 lbs had the decision been made in October. If a person does this every year they still maintain the extra weight gained over the season. It seems the combination of these two elements is supporting the literature findings and the growing nation.
For those who do embark on a weight loss journey, the American way suggests finding the shortest path. While many will start a walking program at an impressive 80 calories per mile others will try to hit the ground running and join groups of socially competitive, high intensity training. Although boot camps and related small group training can be successful for the physically fit (when applied correctly) they are completely inappropriate for new exercisers who lack experience, movement aptitude and are unfamiliar with training technique. Placing people in these environments often forces the participation at above tolerable level and increases risk for a negative outcome; albeit quitting or injury. A better strategy is to start with one-on-one or partner instruction to acclimate people to exercise before stepping into an introductory boot camp style environment. While walking may not be enough, the risk for a negative outcome is much lower than the HIIT concept for new or returning fitness enthusiasts.
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