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Is diet or exercise more important? Which one should I focus on?

What is More Important: Diet or Exercise?

If you’re determined to improve your lifestyle, lose weight, get stronger or simply boost your sense of overall wellbeing, you’re probably wondering where to start. We all know that diet and exercise are essential factors in maintaining good health, but many of us are unsure about which one to focus on. Those who would rather forget their memories of high school gym class, for example, may be more inclined to focus on maintaining a strict diet, while those struggling to give up their daily donut habit may pin their hopes on the treadmill to keep their health in check.

So, what should you do about this conundrum? The short answer, unsurprisingly, is that the relationship between diet and exercise is complex and there are no clear-cut solutions. There’s no doubt that eating well and keeping fit are positive things that will help you to feel good. If you’re hoping to achieve a specific goal such as losing weight, however, you will need to think carefully about your strategy. Fortunately, we’ve put together an informative guide below to help you understand the relationship between diet and exercise and develop a long-term plan that works for you.

The Benefits of Eating Well

Before coming up with a new health and wellness regime, it is important to understand the different positive effects that a balanced diet and regular exercise can produce. 

A balanced diet is, put simply, one that meets a person’s nutritional requirements. It should not exceed their recommended calorie intake and should include a range of foods from the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein). Of course, this leaves open plenty of opportunity for enjoyment of (and experimentation with) many different foods. Mediterranean cuisine, for example, usually contains an array of delicious and nutrient-rich ingredients, as do Japanese, Jamaican or Indian cuisines, amongst others. 

In other words, balanced diets do not have to be boring. You should simply eat a wide array of foods from the five main groups on a regular basis, avoiding or minimizing the amount of junk food you eat. This means cutting down on candy, sugary soft drinks, refined carbohydrates, and greasy, fatty foods. According to the World Health Organization, the benefits of eating a balanced diet include:

  • It helps to support the immune system
  • It can help to protect against non-communicable diseases including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and more
  • It can aid weight loss or help you maintain a healthy weight
  • It can improve mental health as experimenting with new flavors can enrich your life

The Benefits of Exercise

Clearly, the arguments for eating well are very strong. But where does exercise fit into all of this? Exercise can take many forms including team sports, jogging, walking, or swimming. Many people find it very enjoyable and it can be done on a budget. It is recommended that adults try to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. Doing so should bring about the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of heart diseases such as heart attack and coronary artery disease
  • Improved weight control
  • Better insulin and blood sugar levels
  • Improved mental health and a more stable mood
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Improved sleep and cognitive abilities
  • Higher life expectancy
  • Reduced risk of certain cancers including uterine, breast, colon and lung cancer

The Problem With Only Dieting

The benefits of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime are clear. But what if you’re not keen on hitting the gym? Perhaps you’ve got a chronic pain condition that makes you shudder at the mere thought of exercise? 

The good news is that it is possible to lose weight without exercising. In the short term, cutting the number of calories you ingest every day and loading your plate up with fresh vegetables will probably produce the results you desire. You will likely lose weight and fit back into your favorite pair of old jeans.

However, there’s a catch. It is very difficult to maintain a strict diet regimen in the long term. You may cycle through periods of super-healthy eating and periods of bingeing, a phenomenon known as yo-yo dieting. According to studies, yo-yo dieting can actually make someone heavier in the long-term as the loss of muscle mass lost through dieting can encourage the body to hang on to energy reserves and fat. 

The best way to tackle this problem is through regular exercise. Hitting the gym or doing a gentle yoga session every so often will help to strengthen your muscles and free up a few extra calories, allowing you to indulge in an occasional treat without feeling racked with guilt.

What’s more, there are some positive health effects gained through exercise that simply cannot be achieved through diet alone. Time and time again, studies have shown that exercise represents an essential tool in boosting mental health. This is vitally important for people whose eating habits are closely connected to their emotions. What’s more, it is perfectly possible to look thin and healthy while having high blood pressure, poor blood sugar levels, and a raised risk of noncommunicable diseases. Exercise can work wonders in helping to tackle this.

The Problem With Only Exercising

Despite the vital role of exercise in overall health, it is not enough to keep weight gain and certain lifestyle diseases at bay. Although exercise burns calories, it doesn’t burn nearly as many as most people believe. Unfortunately, this means that many people are likely to “overcompensate” after a hard bout of exercise, adding too many treats to their dinner plate in the mistaken belief that they will have burned off the extra calories in the gym. The scientific consensus is that, unless you’re a professional athlete, you shouldn’t be compensating with extra food after exercise. 

How to Maintain a Healthy Weight in the Long Term

As we have seen, exercise and diet both have very important roles to play in our health and wellbeing. Ultimately, you cannot favor one over the other if you are committed to maintaining a healthy weight in the long term. 

This is particularly important to understand as you get older. As we age, our metabolisms slow down and the role of diet and exercise in our lives becomes increasingly vital. If you’re feeling a little intimidated by this fact, don’t worry. 

Getting started with exercise is much easier than many of us imagine, even if you have certain limitations or disabilities. There are plenty of different exercises out there to suit everybody. Swimming is particularly gentle on the joints and bones of older folks, for example.  

Remember that consistent exercise is a great way to improve your overall attitude to your health and wellbeing. Many people who start exercising are inspired to quit smoking and keep their diet in check once they realize how great healthy living makes them feel. In this way, we recommend starting your health journey with gentle exercise and improving your diet over time. This is much more effective than starting with a punishing crash diet and will help to fight chronic diseases in the long term. Give it a go today!

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