Exercise vs Diet: What Matters Most?

At first glance, dieting seems to be the obvious answer if we want to manage weight. 

We gain weight when we take in more calories than we need. Therefore, managing energy input and expenditure naturally be the key to achieving healthy weight management.

While most fad diets recommend calorie restriction, individuals must be cautioned as this is usually not sustainable. After some time, people tend to revert to their old habits. Even worse, the sense of deprivation leads them to eat more, causing them to put back all the weight they had initially lost.

Exercise Is More Important Than Diet for Weight Loss?

If dieting alone doesn't lead to sustainable weight loss, would exercise solely do the trick?

Not quite, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. As part of the study, researchers from Arizona State University in the United States enlisted 81 overweight women to join a fitness programme.

During the three-month long study, the women engaged in treadmill workouts three times a week, but their eating habits were not monitored.

Three months later, 70% of the women gained some fat mass during the programme, despite their increased activity.

While the study could not conclude the exact reasons for the weight gain, researchers believe that the participants who gained weight consumed more food and increased their calorie intake. This was because they believed that they had burned enough kilocalories to justify the extra food.

Related: Eating to Lose Weight

Exercise and Diet to Keep the Weight Off in the Long Term

In short, the safest and most sustainable way to reduce weight is a combination of mindful nutrition practices and regular exercise in the long term.

Energy Expenditure and Calorie Intake

The total number of calories you burn for energy each day is your total daily energy expenditure. These include energy required for the body to perform essential functions (like digestion and blood circulation) and amount of physical activity you’re doing.

By consuming the same amount of food and beverage while exercising more, a sustainable energy deficit (where the calories consumed are less than calories burnt) can be created. Regular exercise can also help increase your metabolic rate so you’ll burn those calories at rest a lot more efficiently.
Just a daily energy deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcal will allow you to lose between 0.5 kg to 1 kg per week. So if you are trying to reduce your weight or prevent weight gain, you should try to avoid excess intake of food and beverage, and increase your physical activity levels.

Make Good Food Choices

Your diet is also crucial. Keep in mind My Healthy Plate guidelines: fill a quarter of your plate with wholegrains, a quarter with proteins, and the remaining half with the recommended two servings of fruits and vegetables per day for a well-balanced meal. 

Once your meals are settled, it is time to work up a sweat by engaging in regular exercise. 

According to the Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines, it is recommended that you engage in at least 2 days of strength training to help you maintain healthy weight, build muscular strength and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Moderate-intensity exercises should cause an increase in your breathing rate. You should be able to carry on a conversation but not have enough breath to sing.

Pick a Suitable Activity

Working out can be tough on your body, especially if you are not used to it. The heavier you are, the more pressure you put on your lower limb joints.

Ease into a low-intensity workout programme such as yoga, aqua-jogging, water-based activities minimises the impact on your knees and joints. As you progress, gradually increase the intensities of your workout regime to moderate – vigorous intensity. When you get more comfortable with an exercise regime, try other activities such as jogging, brisk walking or cycling.

Diet and Exercise for Your Health

Even if weight management is not your goal, there are also many health benefits to a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity. 
If you are overweight, you are potentially at risk for pre-diabetes. But start on a combination of moderate physical activity and a sensible diet now, and you can lower your risk for diabetes and other diseases. 
Do consult your doctor before starting any exercise regime, and practise caution when exercising. Remember, safety first!

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