Fitness All of the sudden it seems everyone has holiday food out to sample. Cookies, cakes, pies and candy are available. In theory, if I exercise more over the holidays, I won’t gain weight, right?

First, it is very cold this week and any exercise for me is going to need to happen inside. The treadmill in the basement is buried, so the prospect of exercising is doubtful. All joking aside. It really depends. The key is to balance calories you take in with the calories you use up. But most weight-loss specialists say a combination of diet and exercise — not one or the other — is what’s needed, especially when indulging in special treats.

That makes sense. Figure it this way: If you estimate an average Christmas cookie has about 100 calories, and you eat as many as you want — say, five? — that’s 500 calories you will need to work off if you don’t cut back calories somewhere else. For a 160-pound person, that’s an extra hour of high-impact aerobics, or nearly two extra hours of walking at a moderate to brisk pace. And that’s just to counterbalance the cookies. It doesn’t count any other bouts of excess.

Recent research backs up this thinking. A Texas Tech University study published in September in the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition” involved 148 people from mid-November to early January.

Half said they regularly exercised almost five hours a week. The others didn’t exercise regularly.

Guess what? The men in the study gained an average of two pounds during the holidays, and women gained about a pound. Participants who were obese tended to gain more. But the amount of exercise a person engaged in just didn’t seem to make a difference. The researchers weren’t sure why. It could be that people who exercised a lot also consumed more calories.

The study wasn’t designed to answer that question.

Still, physical activity offers more benefits than just expending calories.

Another study, published in November in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicates that you’re never too old to reap those benefits.

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