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Exercise vs. Diet: What’s More Important for Health?

Written by RIchard Smith

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Fitness Health

You’ve heard diet’s important if you want to be healthy. You’ve also heard that exercise is a big factor when it comes to your health and well-being. So, what’s more important for health—diet or exercise?

What Are Your Overall Health Goals?

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If you’re trying to decide where to place your focus for optimal health—on diet or exercise—likely the most important question is: what are your immediate goals?

  • Do you want to lose body fat?
  • Do you want to tone up?
  • Do you want to improve your health?
  • Do you want to avoid injury?
  • Do you want to improve functionality?

Regardless of your answer, your method of attack will best be two-fold. You’ll want to focus on both diet and exercise to achieve your goals. However, based on those goals, you may want to emphasize one a bit over the other.

Why You Should Eat a Healthy Diet

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “you can’t out-train a bad diet.” What does this mean? In a nutshell, it means that no matter how hard you exercise or how long your exercise sessions last, if you don’t control what you put in your mouth, you’ll never be able to get healthy. Want some examples?

If you ate this, you’d have to jog this many minutes to burn it off:

  • 1 Twix Bar = 23 minutes
  • Starbucks Grande Mocha = 28 minutes
  • 1 McDonald’s Medium Fries = 32 minutes
  • Small Movie Theater Popcorn = 50 minutes
  • Taco Bell Fiesta Salad = 1 hour 4 minutes
  • 1 Slice Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake = 2 hours 34 minutes

These are only a few examples of some popular food items that can quickly derail a healthy diet plan. That’s why they say, “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” It’s easy to unwittingly overeat, especially when fast foods are designed for convenience, maximum taste impact, and even addiction. Monitoring what you eat in terms of composition and calorie content and allowing for only occasional splurges is the name of the game to optimize health.

A healthy diet also means choosing your foods wisely to keep blood sugar levels stable, balance your hormones, get enough healthy fats, keep cholesterol levels where they should be, and so much more. To maximize your healthy diet, opt for whole natural foods and eat plenty of quality proteins, fresh leafy greens, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein should be significant and interspersed throughout your day to support muscle building, your immune system, and overall health and energy needs.


Why You Should Exercise

A lack of physical activity is a main cause of death and disease, say scientists. Studies show that even small amounts of exercise can help turn things around for you if your health is in decline. And your exercise plan should be comprised of three facets: resistance training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility/mobility training.

As you get older, your body will naturally start to lose muscle mass. This is called sarcopenia and is a function of aging combined with decreased activity levels. Why is this a big deal? It’s because your muscle tissue not only supports your body and your ability to move, it’s also “metabolically active,” meaning it burns calories.

In fact, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body needs just to survive on a daily basis. Translation: if you want to eat more and not put on body fat, then having more muscle on your body will mean a bigger metabolism: i.e., your body requires more calories. So, if you want to keep your metabolism strong (and you do!), then you need to include some form of weightlifting or resistance training in your regular workout program.

What’s next on the exercise agenda? It’s cardiovascular exercise. If you don’t want to worry about being stuck burning off calories for hours and hours (like the example from above), then you’ll want to preemptively include cardiovascular exercise in your day. Not only will you burn calories (allowing you to eat more or burn off excess fat), but you’ll strengthen your heart and lungs, promote better circulation, fend off drowsiness, and even lower depression.

And maintaining your flexibility will allow you to function normally when it comes to day-to-day activities and tasks. Staying supple and flexible will keep your body young and healthy, helping you avoid injury and move more gracefully through the world—all part of the bigger picture when it comes to your health.

Bottom Line: Focus on Diet or Exercise?

Would it be too obvious to say that the answer is “both”? Truly, optimal health should focus on a well-rounded program including diet, exercise, flexibility, supplementation, mental health, and more.

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That said, if your goal is to lose body fat and/or get and stay strong and toned, you’ll want a solid combo of weight training to build metabolically active muscle tissue (and burn calories while you’re at it) along with a regular regimen of cardiovascular exercise (again, the calorie burning). Both of these activities will contribute to your overall health but also help you slim down and tone up in the process and provide countless other benefits.

If your goal is to mainly improve your health markers, yes, you’ll definitely want to include exercise as it promotes better health across the board, but what you eat will also significantly impact the health of your organs and body systems. Providing yourself with the cleanest fuel (food) can do wonders for your health and even your happiness.

Either way, it should always be a combined effort between diet and exercise. They are both extremely important and work hand-in-hand in keeping you healthy.

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