Vigorous exercise isn’t enough to counteract health effects of a poor diet, new study finds


There’s bad news for anyone who thinks vigorous exercise can offset a diet that favors junk food over fruits and vegetables.

Research led by the University of Sydney found that intense exercise does not counteract the adverse effects of a poor diet on a person’s risk of death.

The study found that people with high levels of physical activity and a high-quality diet had the lowest risk of death, demonstrating that you can’t avoid a poor diet.

Researchers examined the independent and collaborative effects of diet and exercise on cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality using 360,600 British adults from the UK Biobank.

A person stirs a salad on a bench covered with fresh vegetables and legumes.
People should eat fruits and vegetables every day to consider their diet to be of high quality. Pexels: Vanessa Loring

The UK Biobank is a large-scale study with in-depth biological, behavioral and health information from participants.

High-quality diets consisted of a minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, two servings of fish per week, and reduced consumption of red meat, especially processed meat.

For those who exercised and followed a high-quality diet, their all-cause mortality risk was reduced by 17 percent, 19 percent from cardiovascular disease and 27 percent from select cancers — compared with those on the worst diet who were physically inactive.

Lead author Melody Ding said there was no escaping the fact that “both regular exercise and a healthy diet play important roles in promoting health and longevity.”

Three women in a gym, squatting while holding dumbbells.  Between each woman is electrical tape indicating the physical distance.
Those with high physical activity and a high-quality diet saw the greatest reduction in their mortality risk.ABC News: Tim Swanston

“Some people may think that they can offset the effects of a poor diet with a lot of exercise or offset the effects of low physical activity with a high-quality diet, but unfortunately the data shows this is not the case,” says Dr. Thing. said.

Researcher at the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity at the University of South Australia, Dot Dumuid, was not involved in the study but credited the large dataset for providing robust evidence.

She emphasized that the study found that there was still some benefit from exercising or eating a high-quality diet.

“The group that had high activity and lacked the proper nutrition still had a reduced risk of death,” said Dr. dumuid.

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