Should we be trying to “exercise off” our bad food choices? Even if we burn off the excess calories, our unhealthy food choices are still likely to harm our health. Let’s look at why it’s impossible to outrun a bad diet and what to do instead.
Burning excess calories is unrealistic
It’s easier to consume calories than to burn them off. To burn off a single M&M (3 calories), you’d have to walk the length of one football field (100 yards). A couple of thin-crust pizza slices (total 449 calories) would require walking for 1 hr 23 minutes or running for 43 minutes. It’s not very practical to rely on exercise to offset bad food. It’s unrealistic, and most of us don’t have enough time in the day to outrun a bad diet.
Unhealthy food is damaging our health (even if we haven’t gained weight)
I saw this first hand in my career as an anesthesiologist. From time to time, some of my heart surgery patients were healthy-looking runners in their 50’s and 60’s, presenting for coronary artery bypass surgery due to clogged arteries to the heart. Naturally, they expressed disbelief: “I thought running would protect my heart. I run marathons! How could this happen to me?” Even the cardiac surgeons were surprised to see seemingly healthy people present with such severe heart disease.
Inflammatory foods will potentially clog our blood vessels, even if we exercise enough to burn off the extra calories. Junk food is high in sugar, fat, and salt and causes inflammation, hardening, and clogging of our arteries (atherosclerosis), even if we are diligent about working out. Junk food creates inflammation that puts us at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and more. Although exercise is good for us, we must not develop a false sense of security. Ultimately it’s important to realize that we cannot outrun a bad diet.
Both nutrition and physical activity are important
Good health requires a balance of good nutrition, exercise, and rest. The best approach is to eat anti-inflammatory whole foods with an abundance of fruits and vegetables and engage in moderately intense daily exercise. You’ll discover that this helps you maintain your health better than with exercise alone. As always, check with your personal doctor before changing your diet and exercise routines.
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