“Hmmm... Should I eat healthy or exercise to lose weight?”
By 2015, nearly a third of people in the world will be overweight, and many will be asking themselves that very question. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and priorities often turn a bedroom treadmill into a $1,500 clothing rack. Well, choosing between healthy nutrition and exercise to lose those extra inches is a subject that shouldn't be taken lightly.
“Generally, rising obesity incidence is thought to result from the current Western lifestyle, in which activity levels and diet deviate substantially from the conditions under which our species’ metabolic physiology evolved,” according to a recent article posted on PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open-access journal.
We know that our hunter-gatherer ancestors generally had a highly nutritious diet and were very active, much more active than modern humans. Typically, they hunted and gathered for about four hours per day, and then played and had leisure time for an additional four hours, all while eating minimally or unprocessed organic food. And they have passed their genes on to us.
The researchers found that tribal cultures that exercise much more than Americans have similar metabolic rates, meaning they are burning similar amounts of calories. So, you could increase your exercise levels to those of traditional, more active cultures, but if you continue to eat an unhealthy western diet, it will be difficult to lose weight.
Another study came to a similar conclusion after analyzing multiple weight loss studies and finding that weight loss from exercise alone “tends to be lower than predicted.”
Nutrition, however, is much more effective at weight loss due to the change in metabolism, reduction in cravings, and reduced caloric intake.
- Reduction of inflammation in the body - we know that eating inflammatory foods like highly processed grains and sugar-rich foods contribute to disease.
- Change in metabolism - increasing the quality of food your food will also change the way your body metabolizes food. Eating whole, real food reduces the levels of circulating sugars available to your body thereby creating a need to find and burn other sources of energy.
- Reduction in cravings - stabilizing your body’s blood sugar will reduce the body’s sugar cravings and in turn will allow you to eat less.
- Reduction in disease
Healthy Exercise Benefits
- Improved muscle tone
- Improved endurance
- Improved circulation
- Improved heart efficiency
- Improved mood
- Improved balance and gait
- Increased physical ability
- Many more
For most of us, weight loss alone is an incomplete goal. There are many unhealthy ways to lose weight. For someone who is overweight, a more complete goal would be to achieve optimal health. In this, exercise and nutrition are equal because both are crucial for optimal health. Research teaches us that eating a well balance nutrition program and getting a minimum of four hours of exercise per week will allow you to live up to 15 years longer. Ultimately this is the goal: live longer with a higher quality of life.
In conclusion: It is true that nutrition is more effective than exercise as a means of weight loss but combining the two will not only increase weight loss but will improve longevity and quality of life. So, if you enjoy working out in a gym, please continue. If you are into Crossfit, keep it up. If you enjoy walking around your neighborhood with your dog and close friends, do not stop.
Tips for improving nutrition:
1. Reduce or eliminate highly processed grains.
2. Reduce or eliminate milk
3. Reduce all sugar intake
4. Eat three meals per day of a well-balanced meal; protein, veggies, fruits and limited grains
(This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.)
Naturopath Chris Ogilvie works at Integrative Health Center of Virginia.