You can’t outrun a bad diet

There is a popular belief amongst dieting circles that you can eat whatever you like if you do enough exercise. Similarly, if you stay within your metabolic energy intake every day and you can eat anything. Often leads to a diet that is high in processed foods and contain little nutrition- think energy-rich nutrient poor!

Fortunately, science has now caught up with these ideas and has found you can’t out-exercise a bad diet if you want to live a long and healthy life. High levels of physical activity do not counteract a poor diet when it comes to increasing your risk of early death (1).

What is recommended, however, is that people consume a high-quality diet that follows the principles of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (2) or a Mediterranean-style diet (3, 4).

A high-quality diet means meeting the daily recommended target for different food categories. For example, ≥2 cups per day of fruit and ≥5 cups of vegetables, ≥2 serves per week of fish, ≤2 times per week intake of processed meat and ≤5 times per week of red meat intake.

People that have both a high-quality diet and high levels of physical activity have the lowest risk of death compared to those who just eat healthily and don’t exercise or those who exercise but don’t eat healthily.

Researchers also found that the effective combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise reduced the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 19% and selected cancers by 27%.

What is promising from this investigation is that physical activity can constitute a range of activities. Exercise levels were determined by participants reporting the amount of incidental, moderate and vigorous activity performed. This included estimating how much incidental such as walking or standing a person did getting to or at work, as well as how many steps on average they climbed per day. As well as the structured physical activity they performed, like going to the gym, cycling, swimming, or playing sports. In other words, just moving regularly will help you live a long healthy life.

If you need help improving your diet to include more healthy food and/or need an exercise plan to get you started, reach out. A structured and tailored plan to meet your individual needs by a dietitian and an exercise physiologist will make the process of getting healthier a lot easier and faster.  

1.         Ding D, Van Buskirk J, Nguyen B, Stamatakis E, Elbarbary M, Veronese N, et al. Physical activity, diet quality and all-cause cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: a prospective study of 346 627 UK Biobank participants. British journal of sports medicine. 2022:bjsports-2021-105195.

2.         National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines Canberra, Australia Commonwealth of Australia 2013.

3.         Liyanage T, Ninomiya T, Wang A, Neal B, Jun M, Wong MG, et al. Effects of the mediterranean diet on cardiovascular outcomes-a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2016.

4.         Knoops KTB, de Groot LCPGM, Kromhout D, Perrin A-E, Moreiras-Varela O, Menotti A, et al. Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors, and 10-Year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women: The HALE Project. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. 2004;292(12):1433-9.

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