You Can’t Exercise With Bad Food Choices, Study Finds

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Exercising alone without healthy eating habits may not be enough to reduce mortality risk. Lumina/Stocky
  • Exercising to compensate for poor diet doesn’t really work in reducing mortality risk, new study finds.
  • Similarly, eating well but staying inactive may help reduce your risk of dying from some cancers to some extent, but does nothing for all causes or cardiovascular disease. mortalityfound the researchers.
  • The researchers also observed that those who exercised the most and ate the healthiest foods significantly reduced their risk of dying from all causes, from cardiovascular disease or certain cancers.

There’s been a lot of talk — and a lot of research — trying to figure out whether exercise or a healthy diet is more important for longevity. A new study by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia analyzing UK Biobank data can provide the answer.

Researchers found that people who engaged in high levels of physical activity and also ate a high-quality diet had lower mortality risks.

For anyone who believed exercise could eliminate poor food choices, this study suggests otherwise.

People who engage in either reduce mortality risk to a lesser extent. Study Corresponding Author, Associate Professor Dr Melody DingTold Medical News Today:

“These groups always do better (and statistically significantly) than the group with the poorest diet and lowest physical activity, but the group with the best diet and moderate or high levels of physical activity do the best!”

The study focused on deaths from all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and adiposity-related cancers (PDAR).

Dietitian in cardiology Michelle Routhensteinwho specializes in heart health and was not involved in the study, said DTM:

“The results of the study do not surprise me. Many people have come to see me in my private practice after suffering a heart attack while training for their fourth or fifth marathon, or right after doing a CrossFit workout.

“When I do a full lifestyle assessment, it’s obvious that they thought their intense daily exercise regimen would make up for their poor, unbalanced diet, and that’s just not the case.”
— Michelle Routhenstein, cardiology dietitian

The study is published in BMJ Sports Medicine.

The researchers analyzed the existing health records of 346,627 UK residents who registered with the UK Biobank between April 2007 and December 2010. The health of these people was followed for an average of 11.2 years. For this study, UK Biobank data was linked to National Health Service death records up to April 30, 2020.

For the purpose of their analysis, the researchers took into account the number of minutes people engaged in walking, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA). For the MVPA and VPA, they used a 1 to 4 ranking system.

A high-quality diet consisted of 4.5 cups or more of vegetables or fruit per day, two or more servings of fish per week, and less than two servings of processed meat or less than five servings of red meat per week.

The selection of target foods reflects recommendations from the American Heart Association, with the authors noting:

“These food groups were selected as markers of overall diet quality because other important dietary components and/or nutrient groups, such as whole grains and dairy products, were not measured during of the basic assessment.”

Researchers rated individuals’ diet quality as poor, average, or one of two best levels.

Compared to physically inactive people who ate the lowest quality diet, those who engaged in the highest levels of activity and ate the highest quality diet reduced their risk of all-cause mortality by 17%. They also reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 19% and from PDAR cancer by 27%.

The higher the level of MVPA, the greater the reduction in risk of all-cause cancer mortality and PDAR, with the most active group achieving a 13% to 14% reduction compared to the least active group.

The same was true for VPA, although it also had a beneficial effect on the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. However, the middle two levels surprisingly reduce individuals’ risk more than the highest activity level.

As to the reason for the greater effect of vigorous activity on cardiovascular disease mortality risk, the authors note:

“It has been argued that VPA may lead to more physiological adaptations and cause more insulin-sensitizing and anti-inflammatory effects than lower-intensity physical activity, which may explain why the association more strong with VPA is particularly pronounced for CVD mortality in our study.”

The highest quality diet by itself – without MVPA or VPA – had no statistically significant impact on all-cause mortality risk or cardiovascular mortality risk. However, it reduced their risk of PDAR cancer mortality by 14%.

In terms of the interaction between physical activity and diet, Dr Ding said, “Diet plays a similar role in mortality risk in those who are physically active and those who are inactive, and vice versa.” .

Regarding the optimization of the chances of a long life based on the knowledge of the study, Dr. Ding said:

“I guess the easiest answer is to adhere to public health guidelines, such as The Eatwell Guide to eat, and WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior. These guidelines are based on solid evidence.

Taking physical activity and diet separately, Routhenstein notes:

“I have to assess where the person is in their exercise journey, medical conditions and limitations to guide them appropriately. Too fast or too heavy in intensity in both aerobic or anaerobic exercise can lead to negative side effects.

“When it comes to exercise, we’re ideally looking for 150-225 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity, about 60 minutes of low-to-medium intensity resistance exercise, and regular stretching. [Start] your day with a balanced breakfast and [have] therapeutic foods, such as lean proteins, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, based on your hunger/satiety cues.

— Michelle Routhenstein, nutritionist

“For your diet to be truly heart-healthy, it needs to last a long time,” Routhenstein added. “Quick fixes don’t work, and starting a diet that won’t last long isn’t effective.”

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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