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A question that plagues many of us, do we diet to lose weight and gain health or do we exercise?

This is a question that also troubles many of the government health departments around the world as they try to find a solution to the obesity epidemic. Many studies have focused on this question and have produced great results to support both arguments. The problem lies in that obesity is an accumulation of fat tissue that is excessive however this comes along with a host of metabolic problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Not to mention an increase in many inflammatory chemicals which increase the risk of infertility and cancer. So let’s look at the question.

Exercise frequently and in short bouts is the current standard of information an example is the UK’s Academy of Medical Colleges 30min a day for five days a week 1. The exercise performed could range from cycling or brisk walking. This type of exercise regime results in a drop in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and can reduce even cancer rates by 30%2. This sounds amazing but what has been found is it is not a reliable way to lose excess fat tissue. It happens in most people to a degree but it is not enough and it does not solve the underlying disease risk factors or diseases that are currently suffered by the obese person.

Statistics suggest that exercise levels in the past 30 years have not changed but obesity rates have soared. So what has changed…. diet! Within the last 50 years the population of much of the world has gone through a huge change in dietary habits, the health sector and fast food advertising have promoted most of it. Don’t eat fat, eat more carbohydrates, follow the food pyramid etc. This has resulted in an increase in sugar and refined carbohydrate intake in place of fat calories for many of the public. Sugar and refined carbohydrates promote type II diabetes, pre-diabetes, fat accumulation, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and poor blood lipids such as cholesterol3. One alarming statistic is with an increase of 150calories from sugar there is a 11 fold increase in type II diabetes within a population4. This is even when controlling for exercise and body composition.

Athletes are encouraged to carbohydrate load to provide larger reserves of energy to fuel exercise bouts. For example this allows a long distance runner to run at a given pace for longer and it also allows a medium distance rower to row much faster and experience less fatigue. Sounds very good but what happens long term with such high carbohydrate intakes? Well athletes are becoming insulin resistant or pre diabetic even with a high level of exercise. The worst scenario is when that exercise is stopped or cut down through the end of a career for instance the potential for diabetes is high4.

So what does this information tell us? Well it tells us the simple message that exercise is not good enough to encourage public health parameters to improve such as lowering diabetes rates. It’s not good enough for the majority of individuals to improve health to the standard that a human being should expect to live a healthy long life. It always needs to be paired with a moderate carbohydrate Mediterranean or Paleolithic diet and stress management.

1. Exercise—the miracle cure. Report from the Academy
of Medical Royal Colleges. Feb 2015. http://www.
aomrc.org.uk/

2. Luke A, Cooper RS. Physical activity does not influence
obesity risk: time to clarify the public health message.
Int J Epidemiol 2013;42:1831–6.

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23356701

4. Malhotra A, et al. It is time to bust the myth of physical
inactivity and obesity: you cannot
outrun a bad diet. Br J Sports Med Month 2015; 0:0.

Adrian Adams

Adrian Adams

Adrian is NatMed's specialist in sports medicine, weight loss and weight gain, digestive disorders, and skin conditions.He is also a specialist in fructose intolerance, skin health, and gut health. His experience as an elite Crossfit trainer combined with a double degree in nutrition and naturopathy means that he can get you back to health faster.Adrian presents at NatMed's Shift Weight Loss seminars and cooking workshops.
Adrian Adams

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