According to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, putting all of one’s eggs in either the exercise basket or the nutrition basket cannot protect you from chronic diseases. An effective longevity routine needs to include a balance of both.
An international team of researchers sourced data from 350,000 individuals from the U.K. Biobank, a massive database of health information on British citizens, which medical professionals rely on for these sorts of sweeping analyses. They began the study a decade ago, when the median age was 57, and the participants were all free from “cardiovascular disease, cancer or chronic pain.”
The researchers set rubrics for diet quality and level of activity. For instance, as The New York Times pointed out, the best diets included “over four cups of fruit and vegetables per day, two or more servings of fish per week, less than two servings of processed meats per week and no more than five servings of red meat per week.” Meanwhile, the best exercisers regularly walked, biked and engaged in “vigorous exercise” for more than 10 minutes at a time. Breaking a sweat for just 10 to 75 minutes a week was associated with “lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.” That’s one short session a day.
Far and away, the lowest mortality risk came at the center of the Venn diagram: those who sourced high-quality diets alongside consistent movement were likelier to live longer, healthier lives. Their data was especially robust in the realm of cardiovascular health, which is no small achievement. Across the globe, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is easily the leading cause of death.
This might all sound really obvious. We all know that working out and eating right is a great idea. Why do we need expensive, international studies to remind us of something we learned in elementary school health class?
In practice, though, it’s difficult to observe both equally. There are a fair share of people who eat nutritiously, yet don’t observe a consistent fitness regimen (which hamstrings one’s heart health, limits endurance and has an array of unwanted side effects, like poor bone density). On the flip side, there are many amateur and professional athletes who view their concentration as license to eat whatever they want.
Marathon trainees go crazy on Seamless after a long run, weightlifters commit to “dirty bulking” as they try to up their bench press. This reductionist thinking assumes that health is simply a game of calories in and calories out — and goes further to imagine that if you’ve worked really hard on the roads or in the gym, you’ve “earned” a piece of cake.
From a mental health standpoint, yes, it’s important to treat yourself. But from a longevity perspective, it’s important to remember that the body treats unhealthy food choices all the same. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to outrun or out-lift a steady slate of meals high in sugar, salt and fat. It can come as a shock — to the patient and all their friends — when a high-performing athlete develops a chronic disease. But if that athlete wasn’t favoring a non-processed, whole-food, largely plant-based diet, CVDs are very much in play.
The good news? You don’t have to listen to fitness influencers on Instagram. Your workouts don’t have to be so difficult, and your body doesn’t have to look a certain way. Instead of training like a triathlete, favor simple adjustments to your daily routine that the body absolutely counts as exercise. Walk everywhere; take the stairs where possible; make sure you really sweat a few days a week. If you pair a lifetime of movement with a clean diet, your lifetime’s going to stick around a while.
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A you a weekend workout warrior? Or do you prefer to spread your sessions out across the week?
Well, according to a new study it could be the type and total amount of exercise that counts, rather than the actual number of sessions, which is good news for people who struggle to find the time to exercise.
The research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine journal, involved 350,000 participants and did not find any significant difference in mortality rates between weekend sweaters compared to regularly active participants.
Results indicated that adults who perform the recommended amount of physical activity per week may experience similar health benefits whether the sessions are spread throughout the week or concentrated in a weekend.
The current recommendations for adults aged 18-64 is a weekly total of two and a half to five hours of moderate activity, or one hour and 15 mins to two and a half hours of vigorous activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
"This large study suggests that, when it comes to exercise, it doesn't matter when you do it," cardiac nurse Joanne Whitmore told the BBC.
"The most important thing is that physical activity is undertaken in the first place."
Ben Lucas, Director of Flow Athletic, agrees, telling 9Honey: "It's true that some exercise is better than no exercise, especially in terms of health markers. If all you can fit in is a workout on the weekend, then absolutely, do what you can. Something is better than nothing."
Less might not always be more
Now this might be music to your ears if you consider yourself relatively time-poor. But while working out only on weekends might be enough to keep you fit, it might not be the ideal way to go for a variety of other reasons.
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According to the Department of Health, while there is a weekly target for physical activity, recommendations do state that ideally a person should "be active on most (preferably all) days".
"The con [of only working out on weekends] is that to make that exercise worthwhile you will need to train strenuously, for example HIIT training, heavy weight training, and you need to commit," Lucas tells us. "If you are only training two days a week, you need to stick to it and make sure it happens."
Lucas says spreading your sessions out is better for consistency and balance, and you could also put yourself at more risk of injury, if you are relatively sedentary for most of the week, before putting your body through extended sessions on just one or two days.
"The guidelines say that we should train for 150 minutes per week, that comes to 75 minutes per workout. That's a very long time to train for someone who isn't as fit and it can lead to injury to train at intensity for that long," he warns.
He recommends aiming for three or more workouts a week, or 30 minutes a day, even if it's a brisk walk.
"Especially if you are desk bound and if you are not doing much incidental exercise it is important to move for you overall health. It's good for your mood, mind, digestion, weight management and being consistent will give you better results than being more sporadic," he adds.