The relationship between nutrition and exercise; how these two lifestyle factors combine to provide holistic health
Exercise and a healthy diet are like an egg, when it comes to health, should not be separated! They are two peas in a pod and no matter what your health or fitness goals are; both lifestyle practices are an essential part of your health routine. Whilst what is considered a healthy diet is diverse and individual; when it comes to exercise its best to include a mix of aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength) training for overall health.
So what happens when we diet and don’t exercise or vice versa?
It may appeal to forego a rummage through the biscuit jar in return for a night off the gym with the mindset of calories in and calories out providing a satisfying excuse. However like most things in life, its not that simple. Exercise is much more than numbers of calories burnt. The benefits of exercise go beyond and may be silent in the short-term but without would make a noticeable difference long-term. The list of why both exercise and diet combine to provide holistic health is endless but top reasons are:
Food as Fuel – Use it or lose it
Exercise impacts what our body does with the food we eat and how those foods may impact us. For example, our body wont use the protein we consume to feed our muscles for growth if those muscles are not being exercised; there needs to be a need for a feed! Undoubtedly, if you’re dieting and not exercising you’re more than likely to be losing muscle mass and struggle to lose fat mass. We know loss of muscle mass reduces metabolic rate; meaning weight loss or even just maintaining weight may become a struggle.
Its important to realise exercise is one of the most beneficial ways to keep blood sugar levels in check. Exercise is a potent regulator of insulin, the hormone that is called upon to pull sugar from our blood stream into our cells to be used as energy. When insulin is not doing its job properly, our cells become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is becoming a leading cause of chronic health conditions and maintaining insulin sensitivity is key to long-term well being. This is especially critical for warding off obesity, pre-diabetes, diabetes and if you’re suffering polycystic ovary syndrome.
When it comes to bone health, shooting for the stars and meeting your recommended calcium intake is only half the picture. Exercise during adolescence and early adulthood is critical to build strong bones and during older adulthood to maintain bone strength. Bone is a living tissue and without regular exercise, bones may weaken and become brittle; a condition called osteoporosis. The most effective types of exercise for bone health are weight bearing (jogging, tennis, dancing) and strength training (weights or body weight).
Emotional Wellbeing & Sleep
Exercise has proven beneficial effects on your emotional wellbeing. Not only is this important for your mental state but also physical health. When we feel happier and relaxed we are more likely to want to take care of ourselves, adopt and maintain good dietary practices. Research looking at the relationship between exercise and food intake has shown individuals previously sedentary who engaged in regular exercise subconsciously reduced their intake of overall calories, fat intake and overall their lean body mass increased.
Tied in with emotional health are the benefits of exercise for sleep. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep by promoting transition to deeper sleep stages and inhibiting transition to lighter sleep stages. We are all aware a good nights sleep can be the make or break when it comes to a productive day ahead!
Next time you’re chowing down on anti-oxidant rich blueberries or sipping green tea; to get more bang for your buck combine it with regular exercise. Exercise is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, hello anti-aging! Interestingly, research has shown regular exercise is associated with decreased concentrations of pro-inflammatory markers (CRP, IL-6, TNF-alpha) and a simultaneous increase in anti-inflammatory substances (IL-4 and IL-10). Further, when we exercise, it increases our body’s ability to produce anti-oxidants and therefore protect our cells against damage and cell death, goodbye wrinkles! As inflammation is an underlying driver of various chronic health conditions, anti-aging aside, exercise is one of the most beneficial preventative measures against chronic disease. Finally, as exercise keeps you mobile, in combination with its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it’s your golden ticket to aging gracefully.
Putting it together
If I can provide one take home message when thinking about diet and exercise for holistic health, it comes from Hippocrates, regarded as the Father of Medicine, who from the beginning said:
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
Bales, C et al 2012, ‘Aerobic and resistance training effects on energy intake: the STRRIDE-AT/RT study, Med Sci Sports Exerc, Vol. 44, No. 10, pp. 2033-9.
Booth, F et al 2014, ‘Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic disease,’ Compr Physiol, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 1143-1211.
Kishi, A et al 2013, ‘The effects of exercise on dynamic sleep morphology in healthy controls and patients with chronic fatigue syndrome,’ Physiological Reports, Vol. 1, No. 6, pp. e00152.
Roberts, C et al 2014, ‘Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance: Underlying Causes and Modifications by Exercise Training,’ Compr Physiol, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1-58.
Teixeira de Lemons, E at al 2012, ‘Regular Physical Exercise as a Strategy to Improve Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Status: Benefits in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Oxid Med Cell Longev, Vol. 2012.
Velten, J et al 2014, ‘Lifestyle choices and mental health: a representative population survey,’ BMC Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 58.