Diet or Exercise, Which is Best for Your Health?

For those battling with obesity (26% of adults in 2010, according to the NHS), the standard advice is to eat less and do more exercise. This seems logical, since weight gain has to come from taking in more energy than we use. But do we really need to exercise more to hit our weight loss targets or is it enough to simply cut down on the chips and biscuits?

We looked at some of the latest research on diet, exercise and health, and found three studies that shed some light on the issue.

Stay Fitter Longer

It is well-known among those in the street dance fitness business (and other fitness professionals) that aerobic exercise benefits the heart. During a high-intensity workout, the lungs actually grow new blood capillaries and the heart increases in strength. The result of all this is that the heart has to beat less often to pump adequate blood to those hungry muscles (that’s why top athletes have really low heart rates – even after exercise).

With inadequate exercise and excessive weight our inefficient heart and vascular system are put under extreme pressure, leading to breathlessness and weakness. This leads to a vicious circle as we end up doing less to avoid those symptoms.

A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research split participants into two groups: both were put on a calorie reduction programme but one group were also given an exercise regime. Although the effects on heart rate were negligible at first, a follow-up study a year later found that those who had eaten less and exercised maintained a lower heart rate, whereas the diet-only group had not. The study concluded that those with a lower heart rate would also be more likely to keep active as it would feel more comfortable for them to do so.

Control Your Blood Sugar

Obesity is linked to Type II diabetes which is usually characterised by a measure of increased insulin resistance. This is where the body’s cells fail to react properly to insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. High levels of IMAT and VAT (Intramuscular/visceral adipose tissue – or fat to most of us!) increases the risk of insulin resistance.

A study by the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics in St Louis, found that although weight loss helped to bring down IMAT and VAT, exercise was even better.

Combat the Ageing Process

There is often conflicting information about the effects of weight loss on the elderly. It is sometimes thought that weight loss will make muscle wastage worse, leading to weakness in old age.

The third study we looked at, carried out by Washington University School of Medicine between 2005 and 2009, found that over 65s who had a history of combining dieting with exercise were stronger and had better co-ordination and gait than those who had relied on diet or exercise alone.

So it seems, from these studies, that a combination of weight loss and exercise really will keep you fitter and healthier for longer. Of course, the above studies concentrated on the effects of diet and exercise on overall health, but there are other benefits to regular exercise, for example enhanced muscle tone, better co-ordination and improved mood.

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