Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Diet vs. Exercise : and the winner is...

Diet vs. Exercise : Longer, Healthier Life with Exercise

Exercise more effective than diet at reducing death-risk

If you think you may live longer just because you have maintained a healthy weight through diet, you may only be partially correct unless you are also exercising vigorously on a regular basis.

A recent study examined the health benefits of exercise vs. diet to determine which one of the two had a larger impact on overall health — and the conclusion was that exercise  and fitness contributes more to lowering risk of death (from cardiovascular disease) than dietary changes and BMI (body-mass-index) changes from weight loss.
"The findings, published in Circulation: Journal of The American Heart Association, suggest that maintaining or improving fitness levels can reduce death risk -- even after researchers accounted for confounding factors, like changes in body mass index (the commonly used measurement of a person's weight relative to his or her height)."

BMI (Body Mass Index) Not the Best Indicator?

We have all perhaps heard about our "body mass" or BMI number — essentially a quick indicator of what percentage of body-fat we carry; in its simplest form, it is calculated as a ratio of a person's height to their weight.

I personally have thought that simplified BMI calculations to determine body-fat are ridiculously inaccurate, especially for people that tend to exercise and carry a fair of muscle weight.  Some of my friends that lift weights and exercise heavily have 10% (or less) body fat but yet are considered "overweight" (according to BMI calculations) because they carry a substantial proportion of muscle weight, which by definition is denser than fat. This is a failing of the standard BMI calculations: they do not take into account a person's fitness or musculature at all.

Well, perhaps after this study there will be less focus on the grossly-inaccurate BMI figure, especially given this finding (quoted from article on Huffington Post):

"The Fitness loss with age is associated with a higher risk of all-cause and CVD [cardiovascular disease] deaths, after controlling for weight change, [...] However, weight, BMI or even percent body fat change were not associated with death risk,"
This is an interesting finding indeed.  But, researchers cautioned that these findings are not just to be applied to all groups the same:
"[...] because the study looked at mostly normal or slightly overweight men, it does not make clear whether the results would apply to severely obese people. Generally, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal, 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and 30 or higher is considered obese. [...] the new findings should not be extrapolated for people who are considered obese.
This preceding statement seems to be common sense.  We have to keep in mind that the study compared the relative effects of diet vs. exercise and noted how fitness (from exercise) benefited participants in the study, but the long-term (6years plus 11yr followup) study included a group of men that was already only slightly overweight.

The group was comprised of 14,000 men, mostly from the white middle-class, and with an average age of 44 and all in relatively fit condition with an average BMI of 26 (i.e., just slightly overweight per standardized charts).  I really wish they (researchers) would have tracked details of the participants diets more, but perhaps that will come later.

Exercise / Fitness Lowers Risk of Death

If there is one thing to take away from this study, it is that there is a clear connection between staying physically fit through exercise and reduced risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and death:

"For every unit of increased fitness, which researchers gauged using METs or Metabolic Equivalents (basically, a measurement of how hard your body is working based on a treadmill test) over six years, they saw a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any disease. The authors followed up with people for slightly more than 11 years.

"What this study was trying to determine is what's more important for cardiovascular disease -- fitness or fatness?" said Dr. Marc Gillinov, a staff surgeon in the department of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the forthcoming book "Heart 411." "Its conclusion is that overall fitness appears to be more important than BMI, more important than fatness, when it comes to determining whether you're going to be at risk for dying from CVD."

The message, Lee said, is that we may need to focus more on maintaining or improving fitness rather than worrying too much about weight gain -- at least in terms of public health. He said efforts should focus on the importance of regular exercise and upping daily activity levels, by doing small things such as walking the dog and taking the stairs instead of the elevator."

There you have it! We may all be to weight-obsessed vs. fitness-obsessed.  I am glad they concluded by stating how it would be better for (public health outcomes) to worry less about weight gain and concern ourselves more with exercise.  Sure, a healthy diet is going to help your overall health, but from what this study is finding, you would likely be doing your body much more overall good by exercising than by staying thin while being inactive.  I.e., yes, someone heavier than you could be in better condition if they exercise while you do not.

I personally enjoy exercising and this latest study only confirms what I would have guessed just by how much better I feel when I exercise vs. when I do not.  I watch my diet, but I surely do not obsess about it as I am eating my favorite gluten-free desserts and other snacks.  I do try to maintain a regular workout schedule of at least 3-days/week of vigorous exercise and another 2 or 3 days per week of getting out for a nice long walk or something similar.  And, now I have more reason than ever to stick with this exercise plan.

You can be fit while being a bit overweight

I hope everyone can benefit from knowing that exercise can improve your health as much or more than your diet.  And, as the article concludes, you are doing yourself and your health a great benefit by exercising even if you are a bit overweight:

"The message is that you are doing yourself a lot of good with exercise," [...] "If you're someone who's fit but is finding it hard to drop those last five to 10 pounds, don't beat yourself up about it too badly. And if you're someone who's overweight but active, I'd say keep working on it, because you're doing some good. This is a reminder that fitness is really important."

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available for free.


kalewithlove said...

Thanks for sharing! Interesting information...

gluten free gift said...

Sitting here in my pj's with a cup of tea doing the standard internal debate of whether or not I "feel" like going fora run this morning... thanks for this post. I'm going to go and put my running shoes on now!

John Fisher said...

Thanks for the great information. It is valuable for me as my youngest daugher is on a gluten-free diet.