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What's more important: Exercise or diet?

Have you ever found yourself thinking "I exercise, so I can eat anything I want" or "I eat healthy, so I don't need to exercise?" That train of thought can cause unexpected weight gain and unhealthy habits.

As a society we are no longer as active as we once were. Years ago, my grandfather, a farmer, ate red meat almost daily. However, he led a lifestyle centered on activity, spending most of his days working the field. He also ate primarily what he grew, which means much of his diet was plant based. My grandfather died peacefully after a long and healthy life, working up until the day he died. This lifestyle is not the norm for most of us in today's technologically advanced world, so incorporating regular exercise and healthy nutrition choices in our daily life are both important.

Get moving

I'm sure you've heard the saying "you cannot out exercise/run a bad diet" and it's true. It may take only minutes to consume hundreds of calories that takes hours to burn off (it takes 30 minutes of walking to burn off a 140-calorie, sugary snack). When you look at people who have lost weight and are managing to keep it off, exercise is key to that success.

Exercise helps you lose weight by burning mostly fat; diet alone won't do that. And because muscles takes up less space than fat, exercise will help your cloths fit better. Exercise also helps boost your metabolism, meaning you burn more calories all day long.

Research shows that you don't have to hit the gym for hours at a time to see the benefits of exercise. Frequent shorter sessions (10 minutes, two to three times per day) of moderate-intensity activity offer similar health benefits as longer sessions at the gym. Adding variety to your exercise routine will help you stay motivated, see results and not get bored.

A well-rounded routine should include cardio exercise (for heart health), resistance training (for strength), functional-fitness training (for balance) and stretching (for flexibility). But don't just stop at the recommended 30 minutes a day, the amount of time you sit matters, too. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle by getting up and moving periodically throughout the day.

Research has shown that in addition to helping with sustained weight loss, exercise can have several other positive effects on our lives, including decreased risk for chronic disease (think heart disease, cancer and diabetes), effects of stress and high blood pressure. Regular exercise can also help with weight control, strength, sex drive, self-esteem and body image, and improve sleep. Exercise has also been shown to improve brain health with improvements in memory and learning.

You are what you eat

What we put into our bodies makes a difference and the benefits of eating a healthy diet are as numerous as the benefits of exercise: decreases the risk for chronic disease, helps with weight control, assists in stress management, decreases the effects of aging and improves skin and brain health. Sound familiar? The benefits of good nutrition are the same as exercise, making the two together a powerful recipe for good health!

When it comes to weight loss, what you eat matters. It's clear that you need to restrict calories in your diet to lose weight, but not all calories are created equal. Calories from sugar promote fat storage and hunger. Ever try to satisfy your hunger with a candy bar, only to be hungry again a short time later and eat more? Calories from fat and protein help you feel full longer.

One way to approach healthy nutrition is to follow the Mediterranean diet, proven to promote good health. The Mediterranean diet emphasis food from plant sources (fruits and vegetables), breads, whole gains, low- and non-fat dairy, fish and poultry, nuts, seeds and olive oil, while avoiding processed foods. If you follow a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet you'll be eating more low-calorie-dense foods.

The final word

Exercise and diet are both important for long-term weight loss and your overall health. Find ways to include daily activity and healthier food choices in your life. For the best success, start slow and increase gradually; squeeze in one 10-minute walk and have an apple with lunch. 

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