Avoid holiday season weight gain

In a recent study, it was found that half the annual weight gain in South Africans occurred over the holiday season. Paula Pienaar informs us how not to become a part of this statistic.

The next three months’ weight gain

End-of-year functions, the holiday season and ‘back-to-school/work’ jingles are key events on the horizon over the next three months, and sadly unwanted weight gain.

During this time, we find ourselves taking a break from our usual daily routine, which on the one hand is great because it allows us to engage more with our loved ones and let our hair down, but on the other hand, also coaxes us into less healthier habits. Diet and physical activity are often the first lifestyle habits to be neglected.

You need not give up quality time with your loves ones to hit the gym, but it is essential to maintain a healthy physical activity pattern during the holiday season to avoid weight gain.

Seasonal food purchases and weight gain

In a recent study,1 investigating the relationship between seasonal food purchases and weight gain, it was found that half the annual weight gain in South Africans occurred over the holiday season.

Interestingly, the research showed that the least nutritionally desirable foods were purchased in November and December, and the most fruit and vegetables in January – possibly due to optimistic New Year’s resolutions. These findings support the need for an increased focus on lifestyle interventions to address health habits during holidays.

In a country where obesity is at its highest level, it is pertinent that we maintain a healthy, conscious lifestyle throughout the year, and especially during these upcoming months.

Weight gain associations

Weight gain is associated with raised blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose. When unmanaged, these conditions may culminate to Type 2 diabetes, which may often co-exist with hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol).

For the first time, researchers have shown a strong link between diabetes and obesity in all regions of Africa. This first of its kind obesity and diabetes trend analysis, conducted between 1980 and 2014, showed that the prevalence of diabetes continued to increase rapidly and that it was triggered by the high incidence of obesity2.

Take responsibility of your health

To prevent the progression of this diabesity epidemic, it is up to us to take responsibility of our own health. When combined with dietary changes, physical activity has the potential to delay the progression of full-blown diabetes,3 by playing a key role in managing the intermediary risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and a poor lipid profile.

Let’s optimise the beautiful summer days and take care of our heart and blood vessels by being mindful of our food choices, and maintaining a healthy active holiday season.

Benefits of regular physical activity

The table below provides information on the physiological benefits of regular physical activity. The exercise prescription is based on international guidelines aimed at using physical activity as a potent treatment of health conditions. These guidelines complement prescribed medication in those with diagnosed chronic disease.

  Physiological benefits Exercise prescription:

Type, duration and frequency of activity

Diabetes4,5 Promotes adaptations in the muscle, fat tissue, and liver associated with enhanced glucose uptake. A: 30 minutes, at least 3 days/week with no more than 2 consecutive days without exercising. Preferably at the same time in relation to meals and insulin injections in patients treated with insulin.

RT: 1–4 sets of 8–15 repetitions, 2 days/week on non-consecutive days. Aim for 5–10 exercises per session.

Taking care of your feet:

  • Always inspect your feet for any changes before and after exercise.
  • Avoid exercise that causes stress to the feet. Exercise which poses minimal weight or stress on the feet is ideal, such as riding an exercise bike, or brisk walking in good footwear.
  • Wear comfortable and well-fitting shoes.
Hypertension6,7 Helps to ‘relax’ the blood vessels, facilitating blood flow and may lower high blood pressure by and average of 11mm Hg (systolic) and 5mmHg (diastolic). A: 30-60 minutes continuous or accumulated in bouts ≥10 minutes each. Most, preferably all, days of the week.

RT: 1 set of 8-12 per muscle group (using light weights) 2-3 times a week.

Please note the precaution for RT with high blood pressure.

You should not do the following, as they can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels for a short period of time:

  • Lift heavy weights without supervision of a qualified biokineticist or personal trainer.
  • Vigorous short bursts of exercise like boxing or squash.
Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides)8,9 Increases the enzymes responsible for raising HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. A: 40-60 minute sessions at least 5 days a week.

RT: 1 set of 8-12 repetitions, 2-3 days a week. Best when including 8-10 different exercises.

Certain medications used for the treatment of dyslipidaemia may have a negative impact on exercise, such as:

  • Muscle weakness or pain.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Fatigue (feeling tired).

You may need to increase rest periods or reduce intensities to accommodate these adverse side effects.

A: Aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise; RT: Resistance (strength) training


Paula R. Pienaar
Paula R. Pienaar (BSc (Med)(Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics)), MSc (Med) Exercise Science) is the scientific advisor to EOH Workplace Health and Wellness, and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. Her scientific research relates to sleep health and managing daytime fatigue to improve workplace productivity and lower the risk of chronic disease. Her thesis will identify the link between sleep and cardiometabolic diseases (Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in South African employees. She aims to design a tailored sleep and fatigue management workplace health intervention to improve employee health risk profiles and enhance work productivity. Contact her at [email protected]


  1. Sturm, R., Patel, D., Alexander, E., & Paramanund, J. (2016). Seasonal cycles in food purchases and changes in BMI among South Africans participating in a health promotion programme. Public Health Nutrition, 19(15), 2838-2843. doi:10.1017/S1368980016000902
  2. Kengne, Andre Pascal, et al. “Trends in obesity and diabetes across Africa from 1980 to 2014: an analysis of pooled population-based studies.” International Journal of Epidemiology (2017).
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