While everyone wants to live a healthy lifestyle, the term “healthy” means different things to different people. For some, it means wanting to lose weight or increase energy levels. For others, it’s about reducing their risk of heart disease (especially if it runs in the family) and ensuring longevity.
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Okay, so we all know by now that both diet and exercise are important aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. But what should be your main focus be? To put it simply: it depends on what your goals are.
Below are three common health goals and my insight on whether you should focus on adjusting your diet or your exercise routine, and which one matters most.
To Lose Weight
While exercise is essential for living a healthy lifestyle, when it comes to weight loss, it’s mostly about your diet. When I first began my quest to live a healthier lifestyle, one of my biggest goals was to lose weight; but I focused far too much on my exercise habits and not enough on making changes to my diet to get the results I was hoping for.
Not only was I not changing my eating habits, but I was adding more calories and sugar into my diet with protein shakes. I quickly fell in love with whey protein, and I was consuming shakes daily. While protein shakes are an awesome addition to your diet, I was not sacrificing anything to make up for it. Instead, I was simply consuming more, essentially cancelling out my efforts at the gym.
While all bodies are different and have different needs, the bottom line is that you have to eat clean, unprocessed, whole foods and keep your calorie intake at a number that will elicit weight loss. It’s far easier to cut calories from your diet than work backwards trying to burn them off. By sticking to a primarily plant-based diet, limiting processed food, and eating meals that incorporate healthy fats, protein and some complex carbs, you’re more likely to consume fewer calories, while still feeling satiated.
To Reduce Risk Of Heart Disease
When it comes to heart health, being fit is more important than your weight. According to a study published in Circulation, women who were physically fit were the least likely to die from any cause. This is because exercise helps you alleviate stress, lowers your cholesterol and increases blood flow. This combination helps improve heart health more than changing your diet can.
Keep in mind, however, that an absolutely terrible diet cannot be out-trained; if you’re constantly clogging your arteries with unhealthy, processed foods, it will catch up to you. (Plus, it’s a lot harder to work out if you’re carrying extra weight around; your standard “chicken-or-the-egg” scenario.)
To help keep your heart healthy, aim to do 150 minutes of cardio a week. Be sure to change your intensity level throughout your workout to increase your cardiac capacity. Resistance training, like weight lifting and strength training, is important, too (to boost your metabolsim and ensure bone health) though less so for your heart.
To Increase Energy Levels
While exercise gives you an immediate surge of energy, your diet can give you sustainable energy throughout the day. The food you eat fuels your body, so proper nutrition and well-timed meals help keep your body going all day long. Without the proper nutrition, you blood sugar levels and your brain’s neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) will rise and drop, resulting in energy fluctuations.
When I first made changes to my diet, my goal was simply to lose weight; I didn’t realize all the other amazing benefits that would come along with it. I immediately noticed an increase in my energy levels. I was more alert throughout the day, and I wasn’t as hungry as I used to be. That’s when I realized that the food I had been eating wasn’t properly fueling my body; instead, it was loaded with sugar, signaling to my brain that I was hungry again when I wasn’t. I also noticed that I wasn’t as anxious or depressed as I once was.
To take action and increase your energy levels, make sure to eat every three hours, and make sure your meals and snacks include flavonoids, lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates into your diet plan. Another easy way to increase your energy throughout the day? Drink more water!
No matter what your health goals are, making changes to both your diet and fitness regime will benefit your overall health and well-being. If you have a specific goal in mind and aren’t seeing the results you had hoped for, talk to your physician, nutritionist or personal trainer and see where your diet or fitness program can be adjusted.