We have updated our Online Services Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. See our Cookies Notice for information concerning our use of cookies and similar technologies. By using this website or clicking “I ACCEPT”, you consent to our Online Services Terms of Use.

Can You Outrun a Bad Diet?

Share
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Email
Print
Teen Girl Running Outdoors

If you’ve been indulging in doughnuts, cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream or other guilty pleasures, you may wonder: Does exercising regularly make up for unhealthy eating habits?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Although it’s easy to assume – or hope – that regular exercise will burn away any unhealthy food choices, that’s not the case.

“The power of regular exercise to counter the negative effects of poor eating habits is limited, especially when looked at over the long term,” says Laura Goldberg, MD, Pediatric Sports Medicine specialist in the Division of Sports Medicine at University Hospitals and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s.

Why Exercise In Not Enough

Among other benefits, exercise can help you manage weight, reduce risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, improve brain health, and enhance your ability to do everyday activities. For its part, a healthy diet helps stabilize blood glucose, minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease and provide energy for daily activities. But to optimize your health, exercise and diet must work together.

“In terms of nutrition, while balance is good, the idea that ‘calories in must equal calories out’ is often not helpful for people,” says Dr. Goldberg. “Try not to think that exercise earns you the right to eat a cookie or that eating a cookie means you must burn those ‘extra’ calories off by exercising. That’s just not realistic. If we lived that way, we’d need to run 1.5 miles or so for every cookie we ate.”

What Makes a Diet Healthy?

“There’s not one diet that fits all,” says Dr. Goldberg. “But in general, people should strive to consume as many whole foods as they can. Whole foods are minimally processed – they include vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, milk, unprocessed meats and fish. Also, it’s important to combine proper nutrition with good sleep habits and variety in exercise to allow the body to recover, heal and grow stronger.”

Dr. Goldberg points out that, when looking to eat healthier, some people may focus too much on what foods to avoid. Most people know that eating too many foods high in sodium, sugar and fat often leads to health issues. But a comprehensive Global Burden of Disease Study from 2017 found that a leading factor for death is diets that are high in sodium and low in whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables.

“This finding suggests that focusing on what to include in your diet – whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, etc. – may be more important than focusing on what to avoid,” says Dr. Goldberg.

What About Counting Calories or Carbs?

Counting calories or carbs can be tedious and become all-consuming. But not all carbs are bad, just as not all calories are equal. For example, 50 calories of sugar is not the same as 50 calories of nuts if your body needs protein following a hard workout. According to Dr. Goldberg, if you eat a variety of mostly whole foods, you should never have to worry about counting anything.

But Is It Okay to “Cheat” on My Diet Occasionally?

Dr. Goldberg prefers not to look at occasional food indulgences as “cheating” on your healthy eating habits or formal diet. Instead, you should assume that occasional enjoyment of less healthy foods will happen and not feel guilty about it.

“I think it’s more important to look at nutrition in the context of your overall long-term lifestyle. Focus on healthy choices in nutrition and engaging in daily activities that you enjoy. Try to eat more foods that have less ingredients or those that are made from scratch. Make exercise a daily priority that is just as important as your meal times.”

Dr. Goldberg likes to look at life as balancing act: there are times when we achieve good balance and other times when our balance gets upset.

How Much Exercise Should You Get?

The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that most healthy adults get:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes/5 times a week
  • OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for minimum of 20 minutes/3 times a week.
  • AND 2 or more days of strengthening exercises.
Share
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Email
Print
Subscribe
RSS