Is it okay to eat unhealthy food if you exercise hard enough? Australian researchers think not. According to their new study, an unhealthy diet increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer later in life, even if you exercise a lot.

HIIT vs. French Fries
A limited number of studies have previously shown that high-intensity training can counteract the harmful effects of overeating and poor eating in the short and medium term. However, the long-term effects have been little studied. This study changes that.

The team led by Professor Melody Ding of the University of Sydney has analyzed all kinds of health data from 360,600 British adults from the UK Biobank and their findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

The UK Biobank is a large-scale longitudinal study, in which all kinds of data from hundreds of thousands of participants are measured at multiple times. This concerns biological data, such as genetic predisposition, but also, for example, the influence of behavior on health.

The disc of five
A high-quality diet is defined as a diet consisting of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, two servings of fish per week and a low intake of red meat. In particular, the consumption of processed meat should be very limited.

It became clear that the healthy eating and frequent exercise subjects had an average 17 percent less chance of dying from all measured diseases, compared to the worst eaters with little physical activity.

The combination
A 19 percent lower mortality was found for cardiovascular diseases and the risk of death from a number of cancers was even 27 percent smaller. “Both physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in living a long and healthy life,” says Ding.

“There are people who think that you can compensate for the consequences of a poor diet with a lot of intensive exercise. Or vice versa: That it is okay for your health if you hardly exercise or exercise, as long as you eat healthy. It’s a shame, but unfortunately: it doesn’t work that way.”

It is about the combination of exercise and healthy eating. Photo: Elnur

The biggest chance
“It is important to eat and drink healthy and varied and to combine this with regular exercise at low and high intensity. This lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and all kinds of cancer,” said co-author Joe van Buskirk of the Australian School of Public Health.

“Our findings make it clear that the combination of exercise and a good diet gives the best results. This improves the health and average age of the participants,” says Ding. “Public health advice and medical treatment should focus on physical activity and a healthy and balanced diet. In this way people have the best chance of growing old in a healthy way.”

To move

The Health Council uses the following exercise guideline: moderately intensive exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week, i.e. brisk walking or cycling. It is also advised to do some form of strength training twice a week.

Healthy living is therefore not so simple. Certainly not in a society where sweet and fat temptations lurk everywhere and many people spend whole days behind a screen.

Burning calories

An adult man (30 – 60 years) with a normal weight and a slightly active lifestyle burns about 2700 kilocalories daily. Above the age of 60, this drops to 2400 kcal. An adult woman (30 – 60 years) with a normal weight and a slightly active lifestyle burns about 2100 kilocalories daily. Above the age of 60, this drops to 1900 kcal. A person who weighs 90 kilos burns 40 to 50 percent more calories with exercise than a person who weighs 60 kilos.

Average consumption per hour in kilocalories of a person weighing 60 kilos:
Walking (5 km/h) 240 kcal
Power walking (7 km/h) 420 kcal
Running (10 km/h) 600 kcal
Running (15 km/h) 900 kcal
Swimming (easy) 240 kcal
Cycling (20 km/h) 480 kcal
Cycling (30 km/h) 780 kcal
Fitness (normal) 240 kcal
Fitness (heavy) 540 kcal
Climbing stairs 360 kcal
Gardening 240 kcal
Household work 120 kcal