- A new study finds that exercising to compensate for poor nutrition doesn’t actually help reduce mortality risk.
- Similarly, good nutrition but inactivity can help reduce your risk of dying from certain types of cancer to some extent, but it doesn’t impact all causes or cardiovascular disease mortalitythe researchers found.
- The researchers also observed that those who exercised the most and ate the healthiest foods significantly reduced their risk of dying from all causes, cardiovascular disease, or certain types of cancer.
There’s been a lot of conversation — and a lot of research — trying to figure out whether exercise or a healthy diet is more important for longevity. A new study led by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia analyzing data from UK biobanks may provide the answer.
The researchers found that people who engaged in vigorous physical activity and also ate a good quality diet had a lower risk of death.
For those who believed that you could train away bad eating habits, this study suggests otherwise.
People who engaged in one or the other reduced mortality risk to a lesser degree. Corresponding author of the study, Associate Professor Dr. Melody thing said Medical news today:
“These groups still perform better (and statistically significantly) than the poor diet and lowest physical activity group, but the best diet and moderate or high physical activity group performs best!”
The study focused on deaths from all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and
Cardiology nutritionist Michelle Routhenstein, who specializes in heart health and was not involved with the study, said MNT:
“The study results are no surprise to me. Many people have visited my private practice after suffering a heart attack while training for their fourth or fifth marathon, or immediately after a CrossFit exercise.”
“When I do a comprehensive assessment of their lifestyle, it’s obvious that they thought their intense daily exercise regimen would make up for their poor, unbalanced diet, and it just doesn’t.”
— Michelle Routhenstein, Cardiology Nutritionist
The study was published in BMJ sports medicine.
The researchers analyzed existing medical records of 346,627 UK residents who had registered with the UK Biobank between April 2007 and December 2010. The health of these individuals was followed for an average of 11.2 years. For this study, UK Biobank data up to 30 April 2020 were linked to National Health Service death certificates.
For the purposes of their analysis, the researchers considered the number of minutes people engaged in walking, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA). For both MVPA and VPA, they used a 1-4 ranking system.
A quality diet consisted of 4.5 cups or more of vegetables or fruit per day, two or more servings of fish per week, and fewer than two servings of processed meat or fewer than five servings of red meat per week.
The choice of target foods reflects the recommendations of the American Heart Association, with the authors noting:
“These food groups were chosen as markers of overall diet quality because other key dietary components and/or nutrient groups, such as whole grains and dairy, were not measured during the baseline assessment.”
The researchers rated the subjects’ diet quality as poor, moderate, or one of two levels of the best.
Compared to physically inactive people who ate the poorest diets, those who exercised the most and ate the highest quality diet reduced their risk of all-cause mortality by 17%. They also reduced their mortality risk from cardiovascular disease by 19% and PDAR cancer by 27%.
The higher the MVPA level, the greater the reduction in all-cause mortality risk and PDAR cancer mortality risk, with the most active group achieving a 13% to 14% reduction over the least active group.
The same was true for VPA, although it also had a positive effect on cardiovascular disease mortality risk. However, the two middle levels oddly reduced the individual’s risk more than the highest activity level.
The authors state that the reason for the greater effect of intensive activity on the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease is:
“It has been argued that VPA may induce greater physiological adaptations and elicit more insulin-sensitizing and anti-inflammatory effects than lower-intensity physical activity, which may explain why the stronger association with VPA for cardiovascular mortality is particularly pronounced in our study. ”
The highest quality diet alone—without MVPA or VPA—had no statistically significant effect on all-cause mortality risk or cardiovascular mortality risk. However, it reduced their chance of PDAR cancer mortality by 14%.
Regarding the interaction between physical activity and diet, Dr. Ding: “Diet plays a similar role in mortality risk in physically active and inactive individuals and vice versa.”
In terms of optimizing one’s chances of longevity based on the findings of the study, Dr. Thing:
“I think the simplest answer is to stick to public health guidelines, like the Eatwell Guide for Eating and the
Looking at physical activity and diet separately, Routhenstein found:
“I need to assess where the person is in their training journey, their health and limitations to guide them appropriately. Exercising too much too fast or too intensely in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can lead to negative side effects.”
“When it comes to exercise, ideally we’re looking for 150 to 225 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity, about 60 minutes of low-to-moderate-intensity resistance exercise, and regular stretching. [Start] Start your day with a balanced breakfast and [have] therapeutic foods such as lean protein, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes in line with your hunger/fullness signals.”
— Michelle Routhenstein, nutritionist
“For your diet to be truly heart-healthy, it needs to be sustained,” added Routhenstein. “Quick fixes don’t work, and starting a diet plan that doesn’t last long isn’t effective.”