I saw another headline today that made me wince: Exercise before eating keeps families fit for holidays. Now mind you, I actually really liked the story about the first family, instead of making the holiday all about food, they decided to actually do something that the whole family enjoys and create memories that weren't just about food. I think that sounds like a lot of fun, and as a person who doesn't like crowds the idea of visiting a national park when it's not over-run with tourists sounds like a good idea. No, it was "the other" message that I didn't like.
Both the headline and the quotes from some of the individuals in the article seem to imply that doing the exercise activities in the morning will somehow offset the pile of calories that you are likely going to consume later in the day. I have already covered in a previous post that this is a fairly dangerous thought process as many of us greatly underestimate the calories we take in and greatly overestimate how many calories we burn when exercising. So I'm going to remind you again about what many people ignore--that 5K fun run/walk is not going to fully cancel out you over indulging.
I still think these fitness activities are good for a variety of reasons. If you take the route of the Kent family mentioned in the article, you are going to be having so much fun doing other things that you won't have time to overeat. Also, usually the people who participate in activities the morning of Thanksgiving are going to spend less time nibbling away as they cook because they are more constrained for time (or they decided to cater in that year or have a potluck family meal). If people decide to go for a walk after a meal they probably won't burn many calories, but since you won't be "picking" at the leftovers or inside consuming as much alcohol you won't be taking in as many calories as you otherwise would. And if your family dinners are, um, less than perfect, and you sometimes find yourself wanting that extra piece of pie to "reward" yourself for not slugging your racist uncle (not that I would know), taking a walk can be a great way get out of that stressful situation and spend time with the people you do enjoy. (And once again, you won't have the food readily available to you).
Another reason I think these holiday exercise activities can help is that if you start off your day by doing something healthy, instead of using the holiday as an excuse not to exercise, you have already started paying more attention to your health more so than you might have in previous years. You might be more aware of how many calories are in what you're eating so you take a smaller helping even if you do indulge. There's nothing magic about it, you've just become more concious of what you are doing.
Take home message--holiday exercise events can give you an advantage in preventing overeating, but unless you are spending the day doing a triathalon, don't expect it to burn a lot of calories.