No, Exercise Can’t Make Up for a Bad Diet

No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape the consequences of a bad diet.

A new study investigates whether high levels of exercise can make up for a poor diet.

According to a recent study, increased physical activity does not mitigate the negative consequences of a poor diet on mortality risk.

The results of the research, which was conducted at the University of Sydney, revealed that those who engaged in both high levels of physical activity and a high-quality diet had the lowest chance of passing away. This shows that a bad diet cannot be “outrun.”

Using a large population-based sample (360,600) of British adults from the UK Biobank, the researchers looked at the individual and combined effects of exercise and diet on all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality. Their results were published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical cohort study that collects comprehensive biological, behavioral, and clinical data from participants.

In high-quality diets, red meat, especially processed meat, was consumed less often and at least five servings of fruit and vegetables were consumed daily. High-quality diets also included two portions of fish each week.

According to the study, those with high levels of physical activity and a high-quality diet had a mortality risk that was reduced by 17 percent from all causes, 19 percent from cardiovascular disease, and 27 percent from certain cancers when compared to those with the worst diet and little physical activity.

Lead author Associate Professor Melody Ding from the Charles Perkins Centre and the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney said:

“Both regular physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in promoting health and longevity.

“Some people may think they could offset the impacts of a poor diet with high levels of exercise or offset the impacts of low physical activity with a high-quality diet, but the data shows that unfortunately, this is not the case.”

“Adhering to both a quality diet and sufficient physical activity is important for optimally reducing the risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers,” says co-author Joe Van Buskirk, from the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

A small number of studies have previously found that high-intensity exercise may counteract detrimental physiological responses to over-eating.

However, the long-term effects on how diet and physical activity interact with each other remained less explored. The findings from this study confirm the importance of both physical activity and quality diet in all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

“This study reinforces the importance of both physical activity and diet quality for achieving the greatest reduction in mortality risk,” said Associate Professor Ding.

“Public health messages and clinical advice should focus on promoting both physical activity and dietary guidelines to promote healthy longevity.”

Reference: “Physical activity, diet quality and all-cause cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: a prospective study of 346 627 UK Biobank participants” by Ding Ding, Joe Van Buskirk, Binh Nguyen, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Mona Elbarbary, Nicola Veronese, Philip J Clare, I-Min Lee, Ulf Ekelund and Luigi Fontana, 10 July 2022, British Journal of Sports Medicine.
DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105195

DietExerciseMortalityNutritionObesityPopularUniversity of Sydney