Over my years of being a personal trainer a pattern has come to light with my most successful clients – if they exercise 3 times or more per week their diets improve, they stop smoking and they reduce their consumption of alcohol; the inverse however is not true, those who fix their diets, quit smoking or reduce drinking do not spontaneously start exercising.
This is significant because when it comes to improving the quality of life, correcting nutritional habits is a bigger player than exercise. If you want to reduce body fat, which is associated with reduced risks of most illnesses, diet is a lot more effective at achieving this than exercise. For example many forms of cancer are associated with poor dietary choices and the debilitating effects of diabetes can be severely reduced by cessation of sugar in all forms.
However, bang for your buck, working out 3 times a week or more will contribute more to improving your health and health related behaviors than just trying to fix your diet alone IN SPITE of the fact that fixing your diet is actually what will help you the most. This occurs because working out 3 times a week causes you to fix your diet.
Exercise is special because it is a keystone habit – a keystone is the center stone in an arch, the final stone to be placed and the one that holds the entire arch together. Exercise serves this function when it comes to living the healthiest and the highest quality life possible. It teaches our body and brain that actions matter and this creates the momentum needed to start caring about the consequences of other actions. Those who exercise more, eat better, drink more water, sleep better, smoke and drink less, have better sex, make better decisions and save more money.
Quitting smoking, improving one’s diet, or reducing alcohol consumption, while all critical in improving the quality of life, do not play a keystone function with regards to behavior. As such, they rely on will power to maintain and tend not be self-sustainable over the first few weeks or months. Relapse tends of occur when routines are disrupted or when one is challenged outside of their normal day-to-day events. Furthermore, cessation of anything that relies on willpower alone tends to be associated with higher levels of stress which itself increases the risk of failure.
Improving your life without starting an exercise routine is possible, but it is much more challenging and relies on the creation of new habits that are rewarding in the long run but represent short term sacrifices. This is unlike exercise because exercise is rewarding almost immediately, and in the long term the benefits are undeniable.
To this end, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for someone who is over the age of 35 to try and address their weight concerns through diet alone. In fact, the best thing they can do to improve their diet is to exercise more. Frankly, the best thing they can do to improve any aspect of their life is to exercise more.
It doesn’t take much. 3 hours of moderately intense exercise each week will quickly begin to reverse some of the signs of aging on the body and begin to motivate your brain to correct other habits that are not working for you.
Get out there and start moving more! Join a gym, start play a sport you love, take-up cycling. It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you get moving. Do it for a few weeks and notice the positive changes in other all the other areas of your life.