How Exercise Can Change Your Diet
When you think about being healthy, what are some things that come to mind?
Some of the most common answers are going to be along the lines of exercise, eating right, good hygiene, maybe even meditation. There’s quite a lot that goes into being healthy.
The first things that usually come to mind though are diet and exercise. Both common sense and scientific evidence backs this up.
Did you ever think that those two might go hand in hand? Research from Indiana University reports that one might very well have an affect on the other.
The researchers were able to delve into the details of the relationship using a multi-year survey that started in 1997.
The survey itself was part of the US Department of Labor’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It included over 6,244 participants.
The data that the survey gathered had just what the scientists needed. It tracked exercise and eating behaviors over 3 separate time periods for the same individuals.
The first was between the ages of 18-22, the second between 23-27, and the third was from 27-31 – however the final survey only tracked eating and not exercise.
Having the data in hand, the scientists had to make sure to account for unknown variables. Also known as “confounding factors” in the research world.
This is done to eliminate other factors that might be influencing the outcome. Thus, making sure the findings from the study are reliable. They adjusted for sex, race, education, income, and body-mass index.
The data revealed that participants who exercised regularly at both ages in the survey also reported eating the most fruits and vegetables.
Regular exercise was determined as 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. The amount of fruit they ate averaged 6 to 7 times a week, and vegetables 7 to 8 times a week for both surveys.
That’s all well and good you might say. But that doesn’t prove anything. The people who are exercising could just be more health conscious.
However, that’s not the only thing the researchers found.
The also looked at respondents who had changed their exercise patterns between the two surveys. They wanted to know if exercise habits changed, would the eating patterns reflect that?
Sure enough, it did. Respondents who went from poor exercise habits to getting an adequate amount, saw the biggest increase in fruits and vegetable consumption. From an average of 4.8 to 6.2 times a week for fruit. And from 5.9 to 7.4 times a week for vegetables.
In fact, the only group to see a drop in eating fruits and vegetables, were people who exhibited a decrease in exercise levels between the two survey times.
So what could be causing people who exercise to eat healthier?
There’s any number of explanations. However, the scientists believe that there are two likely candidates.
The first reason is that exercise and eating can lead to the same goal: a healthy weight. Since both activities accomplish this, it’s easy to see why people would pursue them together.
The second reason has to do with habits. The researchers believe that once exercise becomes a normal routine, it takes less mental resources to maintain an exercise regimen. This gives you the mental energy to focus on other habits, such as eating healthier.
The study has its limits of course. The authors freely admit that they didn’t assess some of the social and environmental factors that could have made an impact on eating behavior. It’s also important to note that self-reports can be subject to bias.
But are the researchers on to something?
There have been several studies that have hinted at this as well. One study in 2008 found something similar. They looked at high school students who were trying to lose or maintain weight. Those who were physically active ate sufficient fruits and veggies compared to students that weren’t.
It could simply be that exercise just gives you more willpower. A review of 19 studies was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that found a boost of self-control in 18-35 year-olds. The authors of the review believe this might be due to increasing blood flow to the brain.
Go Forth and Exercise
Naturally it wouldn’t be realistic to go run a mile and all of a sudden start craving carrots like they were buffalo wings. But there’s a lot of good evidence saying it can affect your eating habits for the better.
Besides, exercise is one of the core pillars of brain health and longevity. And it can do way more than keep you in shape. In fact, there’s about 30 different other benefits.
So if you’re trying to make some positive changes – or simply trying to eat better – strap on those sneakers.