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How Much Exercise is Needed to Burn Off Thanksgiving Dinner?

Fitday Editor

Depending on your willpower during the Thanksgiving feast, it could take weeks to work off the extra calories. The average person eats more than double their daily calorie needs on this gluttonous holiday, which can lead to instant weight gain. The good news is that making more sensible decisions at the Thanksgiving table can help you avoid the calorie trap--and you can easily work off a moderate dinner in just a couple of exercise sessions.

And even if you do enjoy your meal without restraint, splurging once in awhile is fine as long as your normal diet and exercise strategy balance out the occasional indulgence.

The Numbers

I hope you're sitting down for this: According to the Calorie Control Council, a typical Thanksgiving dinner contains an astonishing 4,500 calories. That's a single meal, and includes appetizers but doesn't count what you eat for breakfast or over the rest of the holiday. Considering many people only burn 2,000 calories in a single day, you can see how Thanksgiving can widen the waistline.

In a 60-minute session of moderate aerobic exercise like brisk walking or casual swimming, a 155-pound person burns about 450 calories. At that rate, it would take about 10 sessions to work off that meal; if you exercise five days per weeks, we're talking two weeks to lose the extra padding.

You'll fare better with vigorous cardio. A person of the same weight burns about 810 calories in 60 minutes running or swimming laps of the butterfly stroke. You can burn off the full meal in just five to six sessions with these activities.

If lifting weights is your preferred exercise, expect to wait a long time before you can make up for the extra calories. A 155-pound person burns just 225 calories per hour pumping iron; at that rate, you need 20 sessions to burn 4,500 calories.

For perspective, one pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, which means that you could easily gain more than a pound on Thanksgiving Day.

Smarter Eating

Just because the average person stuffs themselves silly with fattening foods on Thanksgiving doesn't mean that you need to. If you're cooking, slash calories by reducing butter and oil in recipes, and choose healthier desserts such as baked apples instead of pies and cookies. If your taste buds refuse to settle for leaner fare, eat your favorite dishes but have small portions instead of full-sized ones.

The Calorie Control Council notes that many of the calories--about 1,500 of them--consumed during Thanksgiving dinners are eaten before the main meal. Munching on chips and nuts contributes to the calorie total, as does drinking sodas and alcoholic beverages.

To help avoid blowing your diet before dinner even starts, choose raw veggies or a couple of pretzels to snack on. Drink calorie-free sparkling water, or choose low-cal alcoholic drinks like sparkling wine or vodka and club soda instead of sugary cocktails and heavy beers.


Nina Kate is a certified fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She also studied journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and has contributed to numerous major publications as a freelance writer. Nina thrives on sharing nutrition and fitness knowledge to help readers lead healthy, active lives. Visit her wellness blog at

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