Weight going up during the holidays is as predictable as available cash going down. It’s kind of a trade-off: net worth for net mass.
Of course a feast or two is a big part of the equation. You can easily eat like a Viking; remember they were known as a robust, if not particularly lean, people. You would hope some of this frenzied holiday activity would translate into excess calories burned.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Most people refer to the “holiday 10” in the same way they talk about the “freshman 15.” That may be good for headlines, but the reality is that holiday weight gain in people who are normal body weight is quite modest at 1 pound or less. Among the overweight, and those previously overweight, the average weight gain is a bit less than 5 pounds. That doesn’t sound like much, but 5 extra pounds of fat is a whopping 17,500 calories. That takes weeks of rather severe dieting to fix.
Now let’s talk about the body economy. A normal, healthy 50-year-old man who does light activity needs around 3,000 calories per day, and the normal, healthy female who does light activity needs 2,500 calories. Sleeping is your most efficient state, burning only 45 calories per hour. A little arithmetic shows that you need to burn an average of 165 calories (133 for women) during your waking hours to break even for the day. You won’t make much progress watching Christmas specials on TV at 55 calories an hour.
But there is more to this holiday season than watching TV specials. There is running around like a crazy person shopping. Simply standing in line gets you up to 100 calories per hour – socializing while you are standing there burns 130 calories. It pays to be friendly. Wrapping gifts is good for 130 calories per hour, but decorating the tree is 170 calories. If you want to get really serious and hang lights on a tall house, all that ladder work will burn 350 to 400 calories an hour. It took me most of a day to decorate. Now we’re talking.
What else is on our holiday to-do list?
- Clean the house for company: 200 calories an hour
- Mow the lawn (in Arizona we plant winter rye grass so we can mow in the winter): 300 calories per hour
- Baking cookies is good for 160 calories an hour (assuming you are not eating as you are baking)
All this holiday work is getting a little depressing. Let’s have some fun. Ice skating is a real workout. Lots of trunk-work is required to keep your balance, and you burn more calories trying to keep warm. That is 400 to 500 calories per hour. Downhill skiing is also in that range. If that seems like too much planning, drag a sled out and find a hill (480 calories an hour). Now if you really want to get creative, try a little Pacific Ocean scuba diving adventure (about 1,000 calories per hour in 55-degree water). Not your idea of fun?
It seems pretty clear that it takes a whole bunch of activity to burn through an extra thousand calories, but these days you can get busy enough that you miss a few meals. And the increased activity might just remind you that exercise is still possible (it’s never too late to start).
As a last resort, be of good cheer – you are in better shape than that guy in the red suit.
Have a merry one,
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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