Which is more important – nutrition or exercise?
Experts agree that a healthy lifestyle includes both healthy eating habits and regular exercise. But which is more important—nutrition or exercise—depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If your goal is weight loss or increased energy, then you should focus on nutrition. If your goal is to reduce your risk of heart disease or boost brain function, then you should focus on exercise.
Below is a brief explanation of how nutrition and exercise can help you accomplish these goals, as well as some tips to help you take action.
If you want to drop a dress size, focus on diet. Ever heard the expression that “abs are made in the kitchen”? Basically, if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less.
Why? Because you need to burn more calories than you eat in order to drop pounds, and it’s a lot easier to take in calories than to burn them. If you focus only on exercise, it’s just too easy to overcompensate by eating more.
For example, a 20-minute run burns around 200 calories. If it makes you hungry and you end up snacking on a banana and peanut butter (about 300 calories) that you otherwise would not have eaten, you’ll likely gain rather than lose weight!
So how do you take action? Come up with a healthy eating plan—probably around 1500 calories a day, made up of about 20% fat, 30% protein, and 50% carbohydrates—and stick to it.
Here’s a sample menu to get you going: whole grain toast and an egg for breakfast, 6oz grilled chicken breast and baked sweet potato for lunch, and baked salmon with boiled vegetables (carrots, asparagus, broccoli) for dinner, plus an apple and 6ox of low-fat Greek yogurt for a snack.
If you want to increase energy levels, focus on your diet first. Although carbohydrates generally get a bad reputation, they can be a great way to boost your energy levels. You just need to know when and which to eat. You’ve probably heard marathon runners talk about “carb-loading” before taking a long run. Basically, they’re building up their muscles’ glycogen levels, which are depleted during exercise. You want to do sort of the same thing.
So what do you need to know to take action? Eat carbs early in the day (e.g., breakfast or lunch), in order to increase your energy levels throughout the day. Focus on complex carbs—the ones found in whole grain bread, pasta, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Those take longer to break down, leading to more sustained energy levels. Avoid simple carbs like sugar and fructose; those lead to sugar highs and crashes. The one exception to the simple carb rule is right before exercise, where a piece of fruit can lead to a short-term energy boost. Your diet should, of course, contain some fat and protein, but generally, those take longer to break down, so limit your intake if you want to increase energy.
If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, focus on exercise, especially aerobic exercises like walking, light jogging, swimming, biking and kayaking (basically anything that gets your heart rate up for a sustained period of time). In fact, a sedentary lifestyle ranks as one of the top five risk factors for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
So how do you take action? Thirty to forty minutes of activity, done three to four times a week, can reduce your chances of developing heart disease by helping you lose weight, lowering your level of “bad” cholesterol and increasing your “good” cholesterol, improving your blood pressure, and increasing your insulin sensitivity.
It can also have a positive effect on your body’s ability to circulate oxygen, which is often compromised in patients with heart disease. Exercise can even have positive effects on your mood! If you have never exercised before, or if you already suffer from heart problems, make sure to check with your doctor before undertaking a new exercise regime.
If you want to keep your mind sharp, focus on exercise. Several studies show that regular exercise, especially aerobic activity, can boost brain function at all ages. The theory is that exercise improves the circulation of blood throughout your body, boosting brain health by increasing its supply of oxygen and nutrients and the release of a hormone that increases the development of brain neurons.
As little as 150 minutes of exercise per week can significantly decrease your risk of dementia and depression, and boost overall brain function.
So how do you take action? Choose an aerobic activity you like—biking, swimming, jogging, dancing, even walking—and commit to doing it four times a week for about 40 minutes each time.
What you do is less important than whether or not you do it at all, so make sure to choose an activity you enjoy and stick to it. Finding an exercise buddy—somebody to go with you to Zumba class or on a hike—can be a great way to keep you motivated.
Healthy eating habits and regular exercise are both important for a healthy lifestyle. Even a few simple habits, like going for daily 20 minute walks, kayaking regularly with a friend, or cutting simple sugars from your diet, can make a big difference to your overall health. Which of the two is more important will depend on your specific goals. If it’s weight loss or increased energy, focus on diet first. If it’s heart disease and mental sharpness, start moving!
Which is more important – nutrition or exercise? ( Video Review )