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Diet or exercise

Diet or exercise

Which is more important for reaching your fitness goals: diet, or exercise?

The truth is…it depends.

Our new habits

Between the increase in sedentary office jobs, popularity of television/internet binge culture, and availability of high-calorie, high-fat and high-processed foods, it’s easy to see how we have become complacent regarding our health.

Plenty of research has been done in the areas of figuring out why and how we became this way. In a study on workplace behaviour, scientists estimated that office workers sit for approximately 70% of their workday, while adults spend about 7.7 hours sedentary excluding sleep. Reducing this behaviour is a public health concern, however employers often express concerns about reduced productivity if employees are not seated at work, despite results suggesting the opposite (Rosenkranz, Mailey, Umansky, Rosenkranz, & Ablah, 2020). As far as diet is concerned, according to a bulletin from the World Health Organisation, increased food supply may explain rising obesity levels in high income countries thanks to increased calorie consumption, even though the changes in minimum dietary energy requirements have remained somewhat the same. We also need to consider how lobbying may affect our diets: for example, the The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 1991 Eating Right Pyramid Food Guide was withdrawn due to pressure from meat and dairy producers to be more included (we’re not kidding!). When it comes to our health, behind the research and campaigns there has always been a delicate between business, economics, and healthy living.

The benefits of diet

It’s true that what we put in our bodies is a vital component of our health. Many people think of food as fuel – you can’t drive a car with no fuel, just like your body! But that’s not all food does. Food is like fuel and also medicine, building materials, and in some cases spiritual nourishment.

Food is made of different components such as:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Sugars
  • Fibres
  • Water
  • Lipids
  • Proteins
  • Starches

Each of which contributes to repairing and maintaining tissues, cells, and organs in the body. What you need to eat to be healthy can be affected by anything from your genetics to your hormones. This may be one of the reasons so many diets fail; fad diets are not targeted to an individual’s needs.

Diet culture also tends to focus on demonising foods (like fats and carbs), while studies have consistently shown that this method is more likely to backfire.

The benefits of exercise

Exercise is defined as any movement that works muscles and burns energy. Not only is exercise physically rewarding, by keeping off weight and building muscle, but it also decreases feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Exercise helps to stimulate the body’s natural maintenance. When we don’t exercise, our muscles will lose mass and become weaker, leaving us more vulnerable to injury and disease. When we do exercise, we repair and increase muscle mass, increase mobility, increase oxygen flow to the brain and body (which can then improve circulation), and promote necessary hormone production. It not only protects our body, but our mental functions as well.

Since food is fuel, if you’re malnourished you’ll have a hard time benefitting from exercise, if you can even stand up. However, if you eat a bowl of pasta before going on a marathon ala Michael Scott, you’re likely to see it come back up again. To get the most out of your food while exercising, you should leave at least 1-3 hours between eating and exercising, eat within two hours of exercising to replace your energy stores, and drink plenty of water.

In conclusion

Every body is unique. To be your best self, you need a holistic approach to make sure you’re body is getting what it needs.

Let’s leave you with these handy hints:

1. Don’t focus on restriction. Psychologically, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It also decreases your metabolic rate, which will make weight loss harder.

2. Talk to your doctor. They will be able to tell you what kind of vitamins and minerals you may be lacking, what diet and exercise regime will suit your lifestyle best, and they can refer you to a dietician or nutritionist.

3. Be realistic. Set SMART goals and be prepared for the long haul. Short term solutions only have short term benefits! You don’t have to go broke to get fit.

4. You don’t have to spend thousands on gym memberships, gym clothes, and exercise equipment. Do your research, try a variety of different sports, and choose what works for you and your budget.