Eat 'actively' during the holidays

How many decorated holiday cookies can one person consume in an hour?

It's not a question often asked. And not a number most people would admit to "¦ although 'tis the season. So if you did eat 14 cookies in one sitting (or in this case "standing" near a cookie table), I suppose you could consider it "defensible indulgence." That's a phrase I've used in the past to get me through the holidays. But this year I am "actively" rethinking my use of that term.

I was at a recent social event where I witnessed what I believe to be the world's cookie-eating record. She was a tiny person — with a big sweet tooth. She seemed to favor sugar cookies with multicolored sprinkles and those swirly, chocolate cookies that taste like something a favored aunt made when you were growing up.

At the time I witnessed this cookie-eating marathon, I thought, "Well, she's young and probably very physically active."

Hope I was right about her level of activity, because there's undisputed evidence that even a few days of consuming more calories than you burn can damage your health.

New research (albeit a small study, not yet replicated) found there's a way to protect yourself if you do indulge. In this "experiment," 26 healthy males were asked to overeat. Some were told to remain inactive while others were required to exercise for 45 minutes a day on a treadmill. And here's what happened: Detrimental metabolic changes were quickly found (it took less than a week) in all the overeaters, but the changes were far less significant in those who exercised. The study was published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Physiology.

"Our research demonstrates that a short period of overconsumption and reduced physical activity leads to very profound negative changes in a variety of physiological systems," study co-author Jean-Philippe Walhin said in a journal news release. "But a daily bout of exercise stops most of these negative changes from taking place."

Think about this very carefully. After all, 45 minutes on a treadmill is not all that long, is it? It might be just as easy to do a 45-minute, rapid-paced walk around a shopping mall. Or, you could do three 15-minute chunks of rapid-paced walking. Or just do a timed trot around the interior of your house. Play some Christmas music and think healthful thoughts.

As we age, we are more inclined toward inactivity. This is especially true when the weather's cold and the ground icy. Excuses come in many forms. When I feel inactivity coming on, I use as a check-in/check-up. It requires me to log on to my personal tracker and plug in food I've eaten and the type and amount of physical activity/exercise I have had. It does the calculations for me and even gives me a daily nutritional profile. It's like a little truth meter.

Using that website (free app available, too) means if a cookie or two beckons me, I can "actively" indulge.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at

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