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Friday, December 9, 2005 | | Today In History
News > New Jersey
New Jersey section updated 1:16PM

Doctors: Exercise, eating restraint helps over the holidays

By LINDA A. JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Oh, the holiday temptations: hors d'oeuvres, stuffing and gravy with the turkey, candied yams, pies, chocolates, alcohol.

Between the extra calories and disrupted routines, it's easy to pack on pounds and strain on your heart, doctors warn. They advise moderation, choosing foods carefully and getting plenty of exercise.

"Don't destroy your Thanksgiving, but make as many good choices as possible and take a walk after your big meal," recommends Dr. Arthur Agatston, a University of Miami cardiologist and author of "The South Beach Diet."

Agatston said nibbling on healthy foods during the day is better than gorging at dinnertime on Turkey Day. Also, people can limit their total calories over the day by eating a nutritious low-calorie, low-sugar breakfast, with foods such as eggs, Canadian bacon, a hi-fiber cereal or breakfast bar, low-fat yogurt or berries.

"When you miss meals and your blood sugar drops," he said Wednesday, "it causes cravings."

Regular meals and healthy snacks - fresh vegetables, low-fat cheese or fruit - can prevent that and people then eat less calories, several studies have shown, according to Agatston.

He said people must avoid wide swings in blood sugar. Eating foods that rapidly convert to sugar, such as cookies and other refined carbohydrates, pushes up blood sugar rapidly. The blood sugar level then falls within a couple hours, not the four or five normal after eating high-fiber unprocessed foods, and the low blood sugar level triggers more cravings and eating.

It's also crucial to limit the portion size, particularly at Thanksgiving dinner, given that most Americans eat more calories than they burn most days, said Dr. Muhamed Saric, a cardiologist at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.

On Thanksgiving, "it's even more food and even less exercise from the already-bad pattern that they had before," he said, noting that eating slower and conversing at meals leads people to eat less.

With people eating more and drinking more high-calorie alcoholic beverages over the holidays, Saric said, they actually need more exercise. He advises squeezing in physical activity a few times a day, from parking well away from stores and taking stairs instead of escalators to dancing and after-meal walks. Alcoholic drinks should be limited to a couple a day because bigger amounts push up blood pressure, bring more empty calories and, at high levels, can damage the liver, pancreas and stomach.

Dr. Stephen Siegel, a New York University Medical Center cardiologist, said lack of exercise is at least as much of a problem as overeating during the holidays. Besides burning calories, he noted, exercise reduces stress and helps people deal with holiday depression.

Siegel, vice president of the Greater New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, said people should try to follow its recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days and set an attainable goal for the holidays, even if it's less. With colder weather, shorter days and more demands on time around the holidays, he said people should alter their patterns to add physical activity where possible, from walking instead of driving on short trips to limiting e-mail and intercom use at work and instead walking over to speak with colleagues.

"You can cut that holiday 10 (-pound gain) into the holiday 5 pounds," Siegel said.

Conventional wisdom has the average American gaining 5 pounds or more from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. While there's little research on this, a small National Institutes of Health study published in 2000 found the average weight gain was barely 1 pound. One-third of the participants, however, put on 2 1/2 pounds or more.

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