Do you know what happens to your heart and blood vessels after you pig out on junk?

(Warning: It’s scary!)

A couple hours after ingestion of food high in saturated fat, triglyceride levels increaseblood flow is restricted, and the blood vessel linings become inflamed. You’re actually at much higher risk of a heart attack during this period. And that’s after a single meal. Imagine what doing this consistently over time can do!

Still, if you’re like me, you want to fully enjoy the delicious eats of the holiday season without over-worrying about the underlying negative effects. (C’mon, I’ve been good most of the year…month…okay, week… let me enjoy it!)

Fortunately, there is something you can do about it (besides saying no to all of your favorite things). A little naughty can be balanced by a little nice!

Previous studies have shown that moderate exercise before consuming high-fat foods can reduce negative effects on the body.

Now more recent research from a study done at the University of Exeter shows that JUST 8 MINUTES of high-intensity exercise is even more effective than 25 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Researchers found that a short but intense workout before consuming a high-fat milkshake not only prevented impairment, but actually improved blood vessel function.

The benefits don’t stop there:

– A pre-meal burst of intense exercise is also proven to control blood sugar.

– You’re more likely to actually do it since it’s super quick. (Hmm…8 fast minutes or 45 minutes of slow drudgery on the elliptical?)

– It’ll boost your mood and have you feeling happy! (Gonna need that to deal with crazy people this time of year, am I right?!)

– It’ll help you minimize excess holiday weight gain since this type of exercise boosts your metabolism round the clock (not just during the workout).

So what should you do, exactly, to get the most benefit?

The research indicates your workouts need to be HIGH-INTENSITY for the best effect. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is the obvious perfect option. This means intervals of near-maximum (90%) effort alternating with recovery periods. It should be TOUGH (but thankfully short). It doesn’t have to be 8 minutes exactly (that’s more of a minimum) – I would recommend a total time of 10 to 20 minutes, adding in a warm up and cool down to prevent injury. Do your workout anywhere from 1 to 6 hours before your indulgent meal.

Here are a few options to get you started:

These printable HIIT workouts – no gym or equipment required.

– Trainer LJ’s 12 Days of FITmas Challenge – a series of fun 12-minute bodyweight-only routines perfect for the season!

A simple 15-minute HIIT running workout: Walk or jog to warm up for 4 minutes. Then do your intervals – sprint for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of slow jogging or walking to recover. Repeat this for 8 rounds total. Then cool down by walking for 3 minutes.

And you should totally invite your kids to join you! Start a pre-cookie-making tradition. (That could get interesting…)

Please note: If you’re not used to this type of exercise, you’re going to want to be careful pushing yourself to such intensity – do what you can handle. You will still get some benefit from more moderate exercise, so just get moving before you dig in! Something is better than nothing.

I don’t know about you, but I intend on indulging without obsessing over every calorie or how many miles I need to run to burn it off. But I WILL be doing my heart a favor and keeping active, too!

How are you keeping active this season? Share below!