With Thankgsiving coming up tomorrow and Christmas just around the corner, festive overeating is on just about everyone’s mind. The NY Times Wellness blog recently reported a study done by researches at the University of Bath in England: researchers were interested to see if exercise could negate some of the harmful effects of overeating, even when people make up the calories burned in exercise through excessive eating.
As the article relates,
Their method was simple. They randomly divided their volunteers into two groups, one of which was assigned to run every day at a moderately intense pace on a treadmill for 45 minutes. The other group did not exercise.
Meanwhile, the men in both groups were told to generally stop moving so much, decreasing the number of steps that they took each day from more than 10,000 on average to fewer than 4,000, as gauged by pedometers. The exercising group’s treadmill workouts were not included in their step counts. Except when they were running, they were as inactive as the other group.
Both groups also were directed to start substantially overeating. The group that was not exercising increased their daily caloric intake by 50 percent, compared with what it had been before, while the exercising group consumed almost 75 percent more calories than previously, with the additional 25 percent replacing the energy burned during training.
Over all, the two groups’ net daily energy surplus was the same.
The experiment continued for seven days. Then both groups returned to the lab for additional testing, including new insulin measurements and another biopsy of fat tissue.
The results were striking. After only a week, the young men who had not exercised displayed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and, equally worrying, their biopsied fat cells seemed to have developed a malicious streak. Those cells, examined using sophisticated genetic testing techniques, were now overexpressing various genes that may contribute to unhealthy metabolic changes and underexpressing other genes potentially important for a well-functioning metabolism.
But the volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted. Their blood sugar control remained robust, and their fat cells exhibited far fewer of the potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression than among the sedentary men.
“Exercise seemed to completely cancel out many of the changes induced by overfeeding and reduced activity,” said Dylan Thompson, a professor of health sciences at the University of Bath and senior author of the study. And where it did not countermand the impacts, he continued, it “softened” them, leaving the exercise group “better off than the nonexercise group,” despite engaging in equivalently insalubrious behavior.
Naturally, someone who’s consuming more calories than they burn isn’t going to be losing weight or getting stronger. However, this study could indicate that consistent exercise can offset many of the damaging effects of overeating. This concept is exceptionally important for college students, who (especially during the winter months) spend most of their time sedentary and eat relatively unhealthy food. A bit of exercise every day will go a long way towards offsetting some of the unhealthy aspects of our lifestyle.