What's More Important for Weight Loss, Diet or Exercise?

The answer to this question, according to science, may surprise you


Ask almost any fitness expert and they’ll tell you that both diet and exercise are important for losing weight. No doubt, both factors play a role in the process, but could one possibly be more effective than the other?

It’s likely.

A new report published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercise’s impact on obesity is “minimal.”

The main point: while exercise is important for preventing diseases like diabetes, heart disease and dementia, when it comes to preventing obesity and metabolic issues diet plays a significantly larger role.

Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a London cardiologist who contributed to the report told the BBC that eating less was of more importance than exercise for an obese person that wants to lose weight.

"My biggest concern is that the messaging that is coming to the public suggests you can eat what you like as long as you exercise,” he said. “That is unscientific and wrong. You cannot outrun a bad diet."

In other words, many people commonly believe that if they exercise enough, they can eat less nutritious foods without suffering from any health consequences, but many scientific findings continue to debunk this misconception.

In fact, this particular report pointed to evidence which suggests that up to 40 percent of people with a “normal” body mass index will experience “metabolic abnormalities” like hypertension, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

What does all of this mean for the average weight loss candidate, though?

Basically, science is saying if you want to lose weight, you likely want to place the most amount of effort into improving your diet by not only reducing your daily caloric intake, but also increasing its nutritional profile.

It’s not that exercise isn’t important; it’s more so that your diet has a larger affect on your body composition and metabolic functions.

Lifehacker writer Dick Talens recently elaborated on this concept with an in-depth look at several different studies that explains weight loss in more practical terms.

He quotes Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert, author of The Diet Fix and founder of Ottawa's non-surgical Bariatric Medical Institute, who said:

“Most folks want to lose weight and to improve health and so both gyms and kitchens are required. That said, if weight's a primary concern, I'd never ditch the kitchen in order to find the time to exercise. Instead take the total amount of time you think you're willing to spend in the gym, and formally dedicate at least a third of that to the kitchen. As far as optimal amounts go, a person needs to like the life they're living if they're going to sustain it, so what's right and optimal for one person will be too little or too much for another. The simplest litmus test question to ask is, ‘could I live like this forever,’ and if the answer is ‘no,’ you'll need to change something up.”

Ultimately, diet and exercise are both important for maintaining good health, but when it comes to weight loss, you likely won’t see significant changes if your diet doesn’t improve.

Freedhoff summed it up nicely when he said, “"Sure, weight is lost in the kitchen, but health is gained in the gyms."

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