Regular Exercise Protects Against Occasional Over-Eating

With Thanksgiving fast approaching there is no better time than now for this report.

Here come the Holidays, and many of us are looking forward to big family dinners, holiday parties, and special meals. It’s not just one day of indulging, it’s really a season. Lots of folks will enjoy at least two big dinners around Thanksgiving alone.

And coaches and trainers will tell you: You can’t out-train a bad diet. They’ll warn you that eating poorly will reduce your performance in the gym and set you on a downward spiral.

But that may not be the whole story. Not, at least, when it comes to occasional bouts of over-eating for people who exercise regularly. Recent research1 indicates that even a week of eating more than usual might not do irreparable damage to your health and fitness—but the secret is exercise.

This is according to research presented at the American Physiological Society (APS) Integrative Biology of Exercise VII meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

Obesity, as we all know, affects many Americans, and it is a widely recognized public health problem. Obesity is associated with a host of diseases and health problems that come under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Inactivity and poor diet are recognized contributors to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Previous studies2 have concluded that increasing aerobic fitness may reverse the early symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Acting on this evidence, researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, decided to find out specifically what happens to subjects’ fatty tissue if they continue to exercise during a week of over-indulging.

A reguar exercise regimen may protect you from the effects of occasional overeating.

The researcher’s pilot study used four adults who were lean and active, aged between 21-26.

They hypothesized that regular aerobic exercise during a week of overeating would protect metabolic health, preserve lipolytic response—the breakdown of lipids—and prevent inflammation of the fatty tissue.

They increased subjects’ calorie consumption for the week by 30%, and had them continue their usual exercise regimen. This included a minimum of 2 ½ hours of aerobic exercise spread over at least 6 days.

Lead reseracher Alison C. Ludzki and her team measured oral glucose tolerance levels and samples of abdominal fat before the week of overeating, and again after. For inflammation, they looked at markers in fat tissue such as pJNK/JNK, pERK/ERK – or circulating C-reactive protein.

Exercise appears to reduce hazards of overeating.

For those who don’t exercise, inflammation markers in fat tissue would increase after a week of overeating. The results of this experiment, however, were quite different.

The study’s active subjects showed no signs of inflammation in their fatty tissue, and they had no change in glucose tolerance or the chemical breakdown of fat.

The researchers concluded, “Our preliminary findings expand on existing work to support a protective role of exercise in the metabolic response of adipose tissue to brief periods of overeating.”

So here come the Holidays—which means time is running out to establish a healthy, protective exercise routine.


1. Ludzki, Alison C. et al. “Effects of exercise on adipose tissue responses to short-term overeating in healthy adults.” Kinesiology, Univ. of Michigan. Presented at American Physiological Society Integrative Biology of Exercise VII meeting, 2016.

2. Crist, Laura A. “Influence of change in aerobic fitness and weight on prevalence of metabolic syndrome.” Preventing chronic disease 9 (2012).