Diet or exercise: Which is more important?
- In a 2020 survey, the International Food Information Council found that the most popular diet being followed in America was intermittent fasting, a program where “you simply don’t eat for a set period of time, on a regular basis.”
- Pew Research Center reports that one-in-five Americans “say they use smart watches or fitness trackers.”
- Statista reveals a 42.4% “obesity prevalence” in US adults.
- A 2015 Brodeur Partners Health and Wellness survey found that Americans prefer to work out rather than eat right to stay healthy.
Diet is arguably more important than exercise because it would be impossible to maintain an effective workout routine without also making healthy food choices. Food is the underlying fuel source that drives exercise. And individuals who want to see results from their routines will need to prioritize ensuring they're getting the right caloric intake, energy, and nutrients through their diet.
It is unrealistic to believe that anyone could 'out-exercise' a bad diet. Between 2001 and 2009, researchers found that the percentage of people in the United States who engaged in physical activity had increased significantly. And though this was indeed a shift in the right direction, it was not enough to prevent the sharp rise in obesity rates among US adults that had also occurred during the same period.
Studies reveal that the majority of individuals unknowingly compensate for the calories they burn during workouts. And whether this is in the form of excess snacking or poor food choices, it's evident that bad eating habits can easily counteract the benefits of even the most strenuous exercise regime. It's a surprisingly easy thing to do when you consider the details. One hour of moderate cycling, for instance, burns nearly 600 calories. And despite this seeming like a large amount, it's also equivalent to just around two slices of pizza--a portion many people would assume is fine to consume on a regular basis.
Therefore, while diet and exercise are both considered crucial components of a healthy lifestyle, it is clear that diet has an overall greater impact on an individual's health and well-being.
While it can't be denied that monitoring caloric intake (dieting) is more effective than an exercise regimen for weight loss, the benefits of exercise to our overall health are numerous and far outweigh those obtained merely through diet.
Exercise is excellent for cardiovascular health, strengthening the heart, and protecting against America's leading cause of death--heart disease. Aerobic exercise helps lower blood pressure, keep the right balance between HDL and LDL cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, and improve sleep quality. Further, cardiovascular exercise releases endorphins, which makes us feel good and helps reduce stress, fatigue, and depression.
Regular exercise, particularly yoga and many floor routines, increases flexibility and mobility, especially in old age. As we get older, it's essential to keep our muscles, ligaments, and tendons limber so that we can continue to move about freely. These types of exercises promote balance and make us less likely to fall.
Weight lifting, or resistance training, can also have serious health benefits, including strengthening bones, reducing belly fat, and increasing strength. Weight lifting is also known to increase the breakdown of fat, known as lipolysis, long after the exercise is completed, helping to boost the overall metabolic rate and control weight.
A study from Indiana University found that individuals who exercised at least three times a week ate more fruits and vegetables than their counterparts--a phenomenon known as transfer effect, wherein a change in one area affects changes in other parts of someone's life. Exercise is well-known to produce transfer effects in diet, mental health, and general lifestyle.