A long-term research study investigating the independent and joint effects that exercise and diet have on a participant’s risk of death has shown that the detrimental effect a low-quality diet has on a person’s health and fatality risk cannot be eliminated by high levels of exercise.
The study by the University of Sydney, which followed a large-scale medical cohort of 360,600 British adults who all had common characteristics, found that participants who exercised well and ate a good diet had a lower risk of death than those who did neither or only one.
In comparison to those who did not exercise and ate a nutritionally deficient diet, the participants that ate a high-quality diet and engaged in active physical activity significantly lowered their risk of death. For these participants, the risk of death from all causes was lowered by 17 percent, and, in the case of cancer and cardiovascular disease, the risk of dying was lowered by 27 and 19 percent, respectively.
The lead author of the study, Associate Prof. Melody Ding from the Charles Perkins Centre and Sydney University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, said in a media release that both exercise and diet are important.
“Both regular physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in promoting health and longevity,” Ding said. “Some people may think they could offset the impacts of a poor diet with high levels of exercise or offset the impacts of low physical activity with a high-quality diet, but the data shows that unfortunately, this is not the case.”
A High-Quality Diet
According to the National Health Service (NHS), a healthy balanced diet should include: a diverse range of fruits and vegetables, starchy high-fibre food such as potatoes, bread and pasta, dairy or dairy alternatives, and protein.
The service advised individuals to try and limit red and processed meat, as well as saturated oils and spreads because they contain saturated fats—saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature, like butter and cheese. As stated in the MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, these fats should be avoided because they can cause cholesterol buildup and clog arteries, increasing the risk of having a stroke and/or developing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, to achieve a good diet, reducing the intake of foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt is important.
In an email to The Epoch Times, Ding said that there is strong evidence of a link between certain foods such as processed meat and cancer.
“Both diet and physical activity affect health and longevity in ways beyond calories, such as metabolic and inflammation pathways. Our body needs balanced nutrients to function,” she said.
In terms of specific portions, the NHS said that a healthy diet should have five servings of fruits and vegetables and six to eight glasses of water daily, as well as two portions of fish a week, one of which should be of an oily fish like trout.
Oily fish contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to Medical News Today, have demonstrated the ability to reduce inflammation and lower a person’s risk of developing cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. To better comprehend portion sizes, a banana, apple, or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables qualifies as one portion.
Importance of Exercise and Diet
Co-author of the study, Joe Van Buskirk, from the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, said that to optimally reduce fatality risks from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, exercise and diet are crucial.
A few studies have examined the interactions between diet and exercise in regard to health and found that high-intensity exercise can counteract most of the short-term effects that excessive consumption of food has on the body. However, the long-term impacts of eating a poor diet whilst performing sufficient exercise are less explored. This study has illustrated that all-cause and cause-specific mortality is significantly affected by both diet and exercise.
“This study reinforces the importance of both physical activity and diet quality for achieving the greatest reduction in mortality risk,” said Ding. “Public health messages and clinical advice should focus on promoting both physical activity and dietary guidelines to promote healthy longevity.”
Ding told The Epoch Times that as the study did not look at weight outcomes, she could not comment on whether the study results mean that you cannot lose weight through high-intensity exercise whilst eating a poor diet.
“However, based on our mortality outcomes, what the findings really say is that physical activity offers benefits regardless of diet (even when the diet is poor), but diet still matters when one is very active,” she said. “So it is the best to both be active and eat healthy.”