Young people can usually get away with a suspect diet while they stay active. I’m sure there are plenty of high school athletes who don’t do any calorie counting or worry about skipping their favorite fast food. But as you get older, it’s not so easy to get away with ignoring half of the health formula.
In fact, when comparing the importance of diet vs. exercise, it’s now believed that diet wins out, hands down. The best thing for you do is to combine the two, but a new study says that your food has the bigger impact on your weight.
“Decreased physical activity may not be the primary driver of the obesity epidemic,” said Loyola University nutritionist Amy Luke, a member of the study team.
Researchers compared African American women in metropolitan Chicago with women in rural Nigeria. They found no significant difference between the two groups in the amount of calories burned during physical activity, which makes the comparison effective.
What they found was that the diets made the difference. The Nigerian women’s diet was high in fiber and carbohydrates, and low in fat and animal protein. The Chicago ladies’ diet was 40 percent to 45 percent fat and high in processed foods.
“We would love to say that physical activity has a positive effect on weight control, but that does not appear to be the case,” said Richard Cooper, co-author of the study and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Loyola University.
He may have chosen his words a little better. Of course exercise can have a “positive effect” on weight control. If for no other reason, more muscle means more calories burned on a daily basis. It’s possible what he meant was that exercise alone doesn’t have a positive effect on weight.
Cooper says while exercising burns calories, people compensate by eating more. I don’t know whether that observation was a part of the study, or if it’s just his own viewpoint. I’ve found that when I am exercising consistently, I tend to eat better foods naturally. It’s as if my body is sending stronger signals that it needs nutritious foods to replenish what has been depleted in exercise.