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Fun Ways to Burn Off Thanksgiving Dinner

Here's how you can balance out the caloric overload on Turkey Day

By Linda Melone

Between the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and miles of pies, the average American eats between 3,000 and 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. Considering that the typical, moderately-active woman needs approximately 1,800 calories a day and the average man needs between 2,200 and 2,400, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that’s nearly two days worth of calories in a single meal!

The key to keeping things under control consists of limiting yourself to just that one day, says Tom Holland, author of Swim, Bike, Run –Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon. “It’s the one time of the year you should be able to eat what you want without counting calories. But it’s a good idea to plan activities both before and after dinner to burn off at least some of it," notes Holland.

(MORE: 8 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain)

He suggests a fun football or soccer game with the whole family before the big turkey dinner. “It’s great bonding time for everyone and burns calories, which is especially good before you eat,” says Holland. In addition, he suggests eating a light breakfast and going easy on calories (skip any extras like dessert and no second helpings) the day before and the day after (easy on those leftovers) to balance out the caloric overload.

Ideally, you want to try to burn more calories wherever you can both before and after the big event. “I find that ‘front loading’ your calories is ideal,” says Neal Pire, a New Jersey-based exercised physiologist, referring to eating and then planning an activity. This could include taking a class at your local gym; many offer Thanksgiving Day-themed classes with names such as Turkey Buster or Stuffing Buster.

“Typically, a total-body cardio and/or indoor cycling class can burn a hefty 600 to 900 calories, which makes a big dent in your meal indulgences,” says Pire.

Non-gymgoers can find local Turkey Trot races, usually 5k (approximately three miles) fun runs where friends, neighbors and family members participate in anticipation of the feast. But even walking helps.

(MORE: 8 Holiday Health Myths)

“One of my favorite things to do every day — and not just after big holiday meals – is to take a walk after dinner,” says Pire. “It not only gives your metabolism a boost, but it helps with digestion. And you’ll feel better than if you just sat down on the couch after eating a plateful of turkey and stuffing.”

Overall, think of little ways to stay active during the day. “Even standing while washing and drying dishes burns more calories than sitting and watching football games or napping,” says Pire.

Here are typical calorie counts for popular Thanksgiving Day dinner main dishes and sides and a few ways to burn them off:

(MORE: How to Count Carbs the Smart Way)

For perspective, here’s what you’d have to do to burn off your entire 3,000 dinner:

Walking 4 mph (a brisk walk): 10 hours
Running 6 mph: 4 hours
Elliptical trainer (moderate effort): 12 hours
Stationary bike (150 watts, moderate effort): 6 hours
Yoga (Hatha): 17 hours
Step aerobics, general: 6.5 hours
Sitting, watching TV: 42 hours

(Source: The American College of Exercise, based on a 150-pound person.)

Ok. Those aren't going to happen. So, here are some fun and practical ways to portion out your exercise based on what you ate:

Turkey (6 ounces)
Calories: 340
Ways to burn it off: Dance or walk briskly for one hour

Stuffing (1/2 cup)
Calories: 180
Ways to burn it off: Walk briskly for 1/2 hour or do yoga for one hour


Cranberry sauce (1/2 cup)
Calories: 90
Ways to burn it off: Strength train for 1/2 hour or bike for 15 minutes

Gravy (1/2 cup)
Calories: 150
Ways to burn it off: Yoga for one hour or walk briskly for 25 minutes

Green bean casserole (1/2 cup)
Calories: 225
Ways to burn it off: Bowl for one hour or take an aerobics class for one hour

Eggnog (1 cup)
Calories: 343
Ways to burn it off: Walk briskly or dance for one hour

Candied sweet potatoes (1/2 cup)
Calories: 150
Ways to burn it off: Bowl or strength-train for  45 minutes

Mashed potatoes (1/2 cup)
Calories: 150
Ways to burn it off: Bowl or strength train for 45 minutes

Pumpkin pie (1/8 pie)
Calories: 180
Ways to burn it off: Yoga for one hour

Pecan pie (1/8 pie)
Calories: 480
Ways to burn it off: Stationary cycle or shovel snow for one hour

Apple pie (1/8 pie)
Calories: 410
Ways to burn it off: Group aerobics for one hour or bowl for two hours

Or mix and match your own food and exercise combo by using this general guideline:
*Based on a 150-pound person

Yoga/stretching: 179 calories burned per hour
Bowling: 215 calories burned per hour
Strength training (light): 215 calories burned per hour
Dancing: 344 calories burned per hour
Walking (briskly): 358 calories burned per hour
Shoveling snow: 430 calories burned per hour
Group aerobics: 465 calories burned per hour
Stationary cycling: 501 calories burned per hour
Circuit training: 573 calories burned per hour
Cross country skiing: 573 calories burned per hour
Running (5 mph): 573 calories burned per hour

Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50.

Linda Melone is a freelance writer based in southern California. Read More
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