Can You Out-Exercise a Bad Diet? 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Home workout routine. Black man doing suspension straps exercises
How many of these food-vs-exercise justifications sound familiar to you: You take a second donut from the bakery box, telling yourself you’ll hit the treadmill a little longer later on. You add an appetizer of nachos onto your dinner order, promising to do a few extra sit-ups and squats next time you hit the gym. What do all these food vs. exercise rationalizations have in common? People are betting they can exercise so much that it will compensate for eating more than their share of junk food. But can you really out-exercise a bad diet?
Realities of a bad diet. The short answer is no, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. No matter how many miles you run, how many sessions you do on the rowing machine or elliptical, or how many weights you lift, it won’t make up for the damage a bad diet can do to your physical health. And when we’re talking about a bad diet, it’s not the occasional dish of ice cream or apple fritter that will spell trouble.
Diets high in processed foods are considered a calorie-rich diet, but one that is likely poor in nutrients. People eating more of these kinds of foods typically have less room in their diets for whole, unprocessed foods as well as fruits and vegetables. For some people, ultra-processed foods can comprise up to 60% of their diets, according to research shared by WebMD.
These foods are seen as the culprit or a big contributing factor behind several chronic conditions. Recent studies have shown that people who eat heavily processed foods have a higher chance of developing cancer and have a higher likelihood of packing on extra pounds.
A lot of people assume they can eat whatever they want as long as they exercise enough to burn off the extra calories. But when it comes to maintaining their health, it’s simply not true.
Exercise + a good diet. Ensuring long-term health means eating whole foods and whole grains as part of a nutritious diet. And it means pairing that kind of diet with regular exercise that gets you moving and makes you break a sweat. Those are the ingredients for a healthy life – and they go hand-in-hand. A recent study by the University of Sydney looked at this issue. It found that people in the study who had the lowest risk factors for death were people who routinely paired a nutritious diet with high levels of regular physical activity. The study also showed that people who exercised a lot but ate poorly did not outrun the bad effects and mortality risk of a bad diet.
Why a healthy diet and exercise work so well together. Health care experts say it is not possible to have top physical health without a good diet and exercise working together. There is a synergy between activity and nutrition that improves the body in many different ways. These include:
  • A good diet and exercise regimen can work together to prevent obesity. Excess body fat is linked to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
  • Healthy food not only provides nutrients to keep a body working properly, but it offers the building blocks for new muscle tissue and new cell growth.
  • Regular exercise builds on that healthy platform, creating stronger muscles and bones.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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