Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure

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Identifying critical periods of greater weight gain could provide useful information to combat the obesity epidemic. We tested whether body weight (BW), body fat percentage (BF%) and blood pressure (BP) changed during the holiday season (thanksgiving to new year's day) and the impact of regular exercise on these parameters.


A total of 48 males and 100 females (age 18–65 years) with a mean body mass index of 25.1 ± 0.5 kg/m2 were evaluated in mid-November (visit 1) and early January (visit 2; across 57 ± 0.5 days). Anthropometric data, BF%, BP and self-reported exercise were recorded.


Participants showed significant increases in BW (0.78 ± 0.1 kg, P<0.001, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.57–0.99), BF% (0.5 ± 0.2%, P = 0.007, 95% CI: 0.12–0.77), systolic blood pressure (SBP; 2.3 ± 1.2 mmHg, P = 0.048, 95% CI: 0.01–4.63) and diastolic blood pressure (1.8 ± 0.8mmHg, P = 0.028, 95% CI: 0.20–3.49). Obese participants (35.2 ± 0.8 kg/m2) showed a greater increase in BF% compared with normal weight participants (21.7 ± 0.2 kg/m2, P<0.05, 95% CI: 0.53–2.37) and a trend vs overweight participants (26.8 ± 0.3 kg/m2, P = 0.07, 95% CI: -0.18–1.65). Exercise (4.8 ± 0.6 h per week) did not protect against holiday weight gain and was not a significant predictor for changes in BW or BF%. Data are reported as means ± s.e.


Our participants gained an average of 0.78 kg, which indicates the majority of average annual weight gain (1 kg/y) reported by others may occur during the holiday season. Obese participants are most at risk as they showed the greatest increases in BF%. Initial BW, not exercise, significantly predicted BF% and BW gain.

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 944–949; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.98; published online 22 May 2013

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