- A new study shows that people need to eat healthily and exercise regularly to live longer.
- While a balanced diet and regular exercise independently have many health benefits, the study finds that the greatest reduction in mortality risk comes from combining diet and exercise.
- The results show that even a high level of exercise cannot fully reverse the damage of a poor diet.
A healthy diet cannot offset the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, just as regular exercise cannot offset poor eating habits.
A July 2022 study shows that exercise and a healthy diet can reduce your risk of all-cause mortality individually, but the greatest risk reduction comes from both.
The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that those who exercise regularly and eat well had the lowest risk of death. The study authors also note that high levels of physical activity do not counteract the negative health effects of poor nutrition.
According to the researchers, the results underscore the importance of both a healthy diet and regular physical activity. “Adherence to both a quality diet and adequate physical activity is important to optimally reduce the risk of all-cause mortality. [cardiovascular disease] CVD and [adiposity-related] PDAR cancer,” the researchers wrote.
For the study, the researchers evaluated the health and exercise data of 346,627 people over a period of 11 years.
They tracked how much exercise each participant completed in an average week and how intense their physical activity was. The team also tracked participants’ eating habits.
During the study window, 13,869 participants died — 2,650 from heart disease and 4,522 from obesity-related cancer.
The research team found that any kind of regular exercise was associated with a lower risk of death, and that those who both ate well and exercised had the lowest risk of death.
While exercise and diet are independently linked to a lower risk of mortality, high levels of exercise may not fully mitigate the damage of poor diet.
“In our study, those who ate poorly and were active still had a significantly lower risk of death than those who ate poorly and were inactive,” Melody Ding, MPH, PhD, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of health and Medicine at the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, opposite Healthline. “It’s just that if you got both things right, you had the maximum risk reduction.”
The results suggest that people need to eat healthily and exercise regularly to minimize the risk of all-cause mortality.
The study concluded that while adherence to diet and exercise is advocated by health professionals around the world, sensational headlines and advertisements for certain exercise programs “lure consumers into the idea of exercising to eat what they want.” and therefore fueled a myth about “exercise outperforming poor diet.”
It is well known that diet and exercise can each help prevent a number of chronic diseases.
“Diet and exercise are both critical to minimizing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and many cancers,” said Dr. Eric Winer, Director of the Yale Cancer Center, Chief Physician at Smilow Cancer Hospital and President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). “Both exercise and a healthy diet are beneficial for other medical conditions.”
However, because diet and exercise are closely linked, many people believe that they can offset the effects of a poor diet by exercising more.
“The underlying scientific explanations aren’t fully defined, but the bottom line is that if people are to minimize their chances of dying from cardiovascular disease and many cancers, they need to watch their diet and exercise,” Winer said.
Ding noted that she was curious about how physical activity mitigates the risks associated with a poor diet. After reviewing the literature, she said she found that previous research indicated that intense exercise can reverse the damage of poor diet in the short term, but there was little data on the long-term effects.
“I wanted to know how diet and physical activity affect long-term health outcomes,” Ding explained.
According to Winer, Ding’s study shows how important it is to get at least one thing right — either exercising regularly or eating well — to reduce your risk of mortality. But diet and exercise together are most helpful when it comes to reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and many cancers.
According to new research, a healthy diet and regular exercise can each help reduce your risk of all-cause mortality, but the greatest risk reduction comes when you do both.
The study shows that people who exercise regularly and eat well have the lowest risk of death and that even high levels of physical activity do not offset the negative health effects of poor nutrition.
Remember, when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, it helps not to tackle too much at once. Winer recommends that people start by setting modest goals—and when you’ve achieved that goal, you can set a new goal.
“We have to remember that any reduction is good for public health,” Ding added.