Diet foods or exercise alone aren’t enough to prevent chronic disease, new research shows. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t avoid the consequences of a poor diet – and healthy eating alone won’t ward off disease.

Most people know that exercising and eating well are essential parts of overall health. But a large study published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that going to the gym won’t counteract the consequences of eating high-fat foods, and that kale can’t undo sedentary habits. .

“Sensational headlines and misleading advertisements for exercise programs designed to lure consumers into ‘training to eat what they want’ have fueled the circulation of the myth that ‘exercise is more than a poor diet,” the study authors wrote.

Previous animal studies as well as a few human studies have supported this hypothesis, suggesting that, at least in the short term, intense exercise can counteract the effects of overeating.

So an international team of researchers looked at data from nearly 350,000 participants collected from the UK Biobank, a huge medical database containing information about the health of people across Britain, and followed them on a period of ten years. The study participants, with an average age of 57, were in good health at the start of the study, which means that they had not been diagnosed with diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer or Chronic Pain.

By analyzing self-reported questionnaires, experts broke down people’s diets by quality. For example, high-quality diets included at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, two or more servings of fish per week, fewer than two servings of processed meats per week, and no more than five servings of red meat. per week. The study did not measure discretionary foods like soft drinks or desserts, said Melody Ding, the study’s lead author and associate professor at the University of Sydney.

Researchers also measured activity levels using responses from another questionnaire that asked about the total number of minutes participants spent walking and doing moderate physical activity, such as carrying light loads. or cycling at a steady pace, and vigorous physical activity that lasted longer than 10 minutes at a time. time. The authors wrote that this was the first study to look at diet and exercise alongside overall mortality and specific killer diseases, such as cancer.

Unsurprisingly, people with both higher physical activity levels and higher quality diets had the lowest mortality risk. Overall physical activity levels were associated with a lower risk of death, but those who regularly engaged in vigorous exercise – those that make you sweat – had a particularly lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. And even just 10-75 minutes a week made a difference.

Regardless of your diet, Dr. Ding said, “Physical activity is important. And no matter how active you are, nutrition is important.

“Any amount of exercise is protective,” said Salvador Portugal, sports health expert and assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Health, who was not involved in the study. But you can’t rely on your training alone to stay healthy, he added.

These results underscore what many physicians have seen in practice, said Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Cardiology Center, who was not involved in the study. For example, she says, there are many components to heart health, and “optimizing one thing isn’t necessarily going to improve your cardiovascular risk.”

She sees patients who classify themselves as amateur or professional athletes and are shocked when they experience cardiovascular events, she says, regardless of their diet. “A lot of times they come up to me after an event and say, ‘I train so much. Why did I have a heart attack?

On the other hand, even those who had the most nutritious diets in the study saw significantly worse results without some form of regular fitness regimen.

That doesn’t mean people can’t self-medicate after a workout, Dr. Singh said. (She’s a marathon runner herself and she looks forward to nachos after a long run.) enough.”

The study underscores the importance of looking at food and exercise as components of holistic health, Dr. Ding said, rather than calculating how many miles can “undo” a cookie.

“It’s not just about burning calories,” she said. “We need to change this way of thinking.”