Exercise Can’t Compensate for Your Diet

Everyone has done it, overeaten and thought, “Well, I’ll work it off later.” A new study from the Univ. of Sydney has found that exercise alone cannot overcome the effects of a poor diet. High physical activity levels cannot undo the harm a bad diet has on mortality risks.

Researchers looked at data from 360,600 adults in Britain. The information came from the UK Biobank Project. They looked at the independent and combined impact of diet and exercise on death from heart disease, cancer and other causes.

They defined a healthy diet as being one with five portions of fruits or vegetables a day, two portions of fish a week and low amounts of red meat. A poor diet was one high in processed and fatty foods. People who exercised and ate well were 17 percent less likely to die overall, 19 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 27 percent less likely to die from some cancers.

Both regular physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in promoting health and longevity,” said lead study author Associate Prof. Melody Ding from the Univ. of Sydney. “Some people may think they could offset the impacts of a poor diet with high levels of exercise or offset the impacts of low physical activity with a high-quality diet, but the data shows that unfortunately this is not the case.”    

Food is not only the fuel your body needs to produce energy, it also contains all the building blocks (the nutrients) that are needed to make new cells, as old damaged ones are being replaced,” explains Sophie Chabloz, a nutrition expert. “However, fitness cannot be left out of the health equation. It keeps your muscles and bones strong, keeps a healthy heart pumping and balances your moods and hormones.”

While people often think that you can control weight and health by counting calories, this shows that exercise is needed to stay healthy and strong. But, on the other hand, you also can’t “work off” that extra serving you treated yourself to. The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its physical activity guidelines in 2020. They do that periodically when new research changes our understanding of how we can help ourselves best. The WHO recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week for adults. Or 75 to 150 minutes of strenuous exercise.    

Balancing exercise and diet can help you live a long, healthy life. Associate Prof. Ding concluded, “Public health messages and clinical advice should focus on promoting both physical activity and dietary guidelines to promote healthy longevity.”

Banner image: Humphrey Muleba via Unsplash

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