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Is Diet or Exercise The Key To Losing Weight?


It's the $50,000 dollar question that scientists have debated for years. Is it a lack of exercise or a poor diet that bears the responsibility for excessive weight gain. Some experts suggest that our activity levels are the same as they were 20 years ago, yet our diet has been transformed by leaps and bounds. Others say the opposite. So who is right?

John Speakman of Aberdeen University in Britain ascribes the growing obesity problem to people eating too much, not a lack of exercise.

Working with a Dutch colleague, Speakman analysed two decades of studies on energy expenditure, reports the Daily Mail.

The data showed that despite greater reliance on time-saving technology, people today are not any less active than those of 20 years ago.

Factors such as decline in the number of children walking to school and a rise in TV watching do not necessarily equate to weight gain, according to the International Journal of Obesity.

For example, children driven to school have more time to spend running around in the playground while evening TV watching has replaced other sedentary activities such as reading and listening to the radio.

Speakman told the British Science Festival: "In the 1950s, no one would have bought an exercise bike and sat on it in their garage but now people will do that."

However, the researcher stressed that physical activity is good for the body in other ways and should be part of a "healthy, balanced lifestyle."

Other experts disagree and suggest that exercise plays a much bigger role. Susan Dennet, a professional trainer and nutritionist says that exercise has a huge impact on calorie expediture and lifestyle. "Today, there is little doubt how the impact of lifestyle changes, including exercise, can dramatically prevent, treat and even cure many ailments. Any sustained movement, like walking, bicycling, swimming, or cross-country skiing, will reduce the risk of several life-threatening diseases, such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and possibly cancer," she stated.

By examining each disease through clinical trials, we can better determine the efficacy of both exercise and diet in the treatment of many common ailments. Diet, for example, is the cornerstone of diabetes care, but if diet is combined with exercise, diabetics dramatically improve their condition by more than 45% than with diet alone.

For people with chronic ailments, exercise used to be viewed as asking for trouble. However, current evidence suggests that in both health and disease, the overall prognosis is better for the exerciser than for the sedentary. For example, a recent study showed that intensive workouts can not only slow the progress of coronary disease, but actually restore lost coronary function when the disease is still stable.

"We've yet to find a disease state where exercise isn't helpful," said Miriam Nelson, Ph.D, from Tufts University.

When it comes to losing weight, there may not be one clear winner and rather a combination of both working synergistically to achieve optimal weight loss. "We know that only strength training can maintain or increase metabolic levels in the long-term and we know that optimal cell function is largely attributable to diet, so both are equally important in the weight loss area," said Dennet.

The Chart below indicates the maximum improvement for both diet and exercise for 6 common disorders, based on well designed clinical trials. These lifestyle changes can also lead to weight loss, which eases many of these disorders, thus increasing the maximum improvement.

CONDITION
TYPE OF EXERCISE
MAXIMUM IMPROVEMENT WITH EXERCISE
TYPE OF DIET
MAXIMUM IMPROVEMENT WITH DIET
High Blood Pressure
Aerobic
15%
Low fat, high produce, high dairy (low fat)
11%
High LDL cholesterol
--
--
Low saturated fat
20%
Low HDL cholesterol
Aerobic
15%
--
--
High Blood Sugar
Aerobic
15%
High whole grain, high produce, limited calorie
30%
Arthritis Pain
Strength training, flexibility, low-impact aerobic
40%
--
--
Low Bone Density
Weight bearing
3%
High calcium (including supplements)
2%

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