Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You Can't Exercise Your Way out of Bad Nutrition

When the USDA food pyramid was revised several years ago, they added stairs on the side of it to remind people how important physical activity is. I believe exercise is crucial for optimal health, but exercise can't compensate for poor nutrition. This time of year I frequently hear people comment on how they are going to have to exercise more in order to burn off all the extra food they just ate.

Some people say "I can afford to eat dessert since I took the stairs". Have you ever run on a treadmill and seen how long it takes to burn calories? A Costco blueberry muffin has 610 calories. A 170 pound person would have to walk at a brisk pace for 2 hours to burn those calories off. You just can't rely on exercise to negate the effects of overeating.

It's wise to plan for the occasional eating splurge or accommodate for times when we know we will be eating more food than usual. I think the best way to do this is to decrease our overall calorie consumption before and after those occasions as opposed to just trying to burn off the calories afterwards by exercising more.

Most people think of calorie consumption on a daily 24 hour basis, but energy balance also works on a weekly level. You may have a day or two during the week where you eat more calories at parties or other social activities, but if you decrease your calorie intake on other days of the week, then you can create the same net result as eating the same number of calories through the entire week.

Both exercise and nutrition are vital components of good health but many of us make the mistake of assuming we can exercise our way out of eating excess calories. It might work for an ultra marathoner, but most people don't exercise at a high enough intensity or for a sufficient duration to be able to offset the extra calories they consume. The solution? Be a more disciplined eater and plan in advance in order to accommodate for the times you eat more. You can always stick with the "I'll just exercise it off" mentality, but there are probably not enough hours in the day to make that work.

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