The best exercise to prevent holiday weight gain

Happy Turkey Day!
Happy Turkey Day!

I read recently that the average Thanksgiving dinner contains an estimated 4500 calories.  And that’s just the meal proper.  That doesn’t include all the junk you eat before everyone gathers at the table or the turkey sandwich you eat after the family has packed up and headed home. 

That’s enough calories for two to three days! 

With that in mind, I’d like to describe what I believe to be the best exercise anyone can do to prevent holiday weight gain.  It’s a really simple exercise, but one that many have trouble performing.  There’s very little equipment required.  In fact, you’ll put down any equipment that you’re holding on to immediately prior to performing the exercise. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Begin seated in a chair. 
  2. Position yourself approximately 8 inches from the edge of a table.
  3. Place your hands, palms facing away from you, at the edge of the table.
  4. Forcefully push against the table to slide your chair away from the table.
  5. Stand up.
  6. Walk away from the table.


 I call that exercise “The Pushback”.

It’s that simple.  Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advising that you skip your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Enjoy your family and a nice meal, but do so in moderation.  Here are a few ideas to help you manage your holiday calories.

  • Drink water with your dinner. In fact, drink a big glass of water before dinner and you’ll eat less.
  • Eat more turkey and less of the other stuff.  Your body has to work harder to digest the protein and it makes you feel fuller faster.
  • Go for the salad first.  The fiber will fill you up faster, leaving you less likely to eat the calorie-dense foods.
  • Go light on the gravy. Many of the calories and fat are found in the gravy and sauces.
  • Chew your food. The longer you take to eat one helping, the less likely you are to go back for a second (or third).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Are you powering a Hummer with a weedwacker?

Photo: Stephen Bowler

Our bodies are a lot like cars.  They come in different shapes and sizes.  Some are built for speed, some for power, others to carry a lot of stuff, or luxury, and more. Each one has an engine, again various sizes.  What’s common between them is that they all require fuel.

If you put in bad fuel, your performance drops. If you don’t put in enough fuel, it stops running. The bigger the engine, the more fuel you use.  While the name of the game with your car is to try to conserve fuel, most people’s goal with their body is to use as much fuel as possible.

I work with many people who have a weight loss goal and we can use a similar analogy.  When you’re exercising you’re burning calories.  That’s our body’s storage form of energy.  Your largest muscles use the most energy.  The more muscles you get involved in the activity, the more energy you use too. 

If your goal is weight loss, get the big muscles moving and get more of them engaged in the activity.  Spending time in the gym doing multiple sets of wrist curls will work the tiny little muscles that flex and extend your wrist. You might end up with forearms that would put Popeye to shame, but it’s not going to do anything for your weight loss goal.  Sort of like trying to run a Hummer with a weedwacker sized engine.

Replace those wrist rollers with a few sets of squats or a bodyweight exercise like the Burpee and you’ll engage every major muscle group.  (As an added bonus, if you’re having trouble getting your kids exercising, the name Burpee alone is often enough to get the kids interested.) 

Get the big muscles going and watch your metabolism light up, melt the fat off, and add lean muscle to your frame to burn a monster truck load of calories.

Metabolic age…is it important and why?

I was recently asked a question about metabolic age.  Specifically, the question was “my metabolic age is 48 and I was told it could be lowered to 43. Is that possible?”

Is your metabolic age important?
Is your metabolic age important?

Metabolic age is a comparison between a person’s basal metabolic rate (BMR)  against the average BMR for an age.  The calculation uses a benchmark, your age, to determine your body’s efficiency by comparing that benchmark against the average metabolic rate of different ages.  Therefore, the suggestion is if you have the same metabolism as someone younger, you would be in better shape.  However, the calculation doesn’t consider conditioning or body composition, but instead looks only at height, weight, and age. 

So, back to the question, can you lower your metabolic age.  Yes.  Within the context of the calculation the only variable you can affect is weight, so a lower weight will bring down the metabolic age based on the calculation.  The real question though is, “is that really important?”  If you are 50 years old and have the metabolic age of a 30 year old, but you’re fueling your body poorly and you’re not moving enough, it won’t make a difference.  If your metabolic age is a concern, I’d be willing to bet that you’re not really worried about that number as much as you are trying to manage your weight.

The most important thing to know about metabolic age is that you’re really trying to measure metabolism, or specifically increase metabolism.  So, what’s the best way to increase metabolism?

  • Add more lean muscle  by lifting weight:  Your body has to work harder to maintain lean muscle and that work means more calories are used.  The more calories you use the better.
  • Shed body fat:  You can accomplish this once again by lifting weight combined with the right type of cardiovascular exercise.
  • Eat better: Food is fuel and better fuel makes the engine run hotter and more efficiently.  Ultimately, having a faster metabolism than someone else doesn’t matter if you’re taking in more calories than your metabolism is burning. Keep the calories in check and keep the right mix of macronutrients along with muscle building exercise and you’re on the right track.