How many times have I heard the statement “Doc, give me some slack, I eat CRAP (calorie rich and processed) but I hit the gym 4 times a week”. The basic question is “can you out exercise a CRAP diet”? When I lecture on heart disease I show a picture of runner Jim Fixx who wrote The Book of Running in the 1970s and kicked off the marathon craze. Tragically, he died of advanced heart disease in his early 50s, unknown to his doctors, and famously bragged his diet was CRAP but he was a runner so why did it matter? A new research study of large size has examined this question and it is apparent that you CANNOT out exercise a CRAP diet.
Methods A large cohort study with 346,627 participants from the UK Biobank data was examined through April 2020. The associations between self-reported total moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA), vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA) and a diet quality graded 0-3 with outcomes like overall death, heart death, and cancer deaths were examined.
Results During a follow-up of 11 years, 13, 869 participants died including 2650 from heart disease and 4522 fromncancers. Those that exercise the most had a lower risk of all-causes of death, heart deaths, and cancer mortality. Compared with no exercise , any exercise was associated with a lower risk of death. The best dietary category (diet quality index=2–3) was associated with a reduction cancer mortality. When comparing across physical activity and diet combinations, the lowest risk combinations consistently included the higher levels of physical activity and the highest diet quality score.
Conclusions Adhering to both quality diet and sufficient physical activity is important for optimally reducing the risk of mortality from all causes, CVD and cancers. Exercise along did not provide the optimal protection for overall risk of death and deaths due to heart and cancer causes. It takes BOTH exercise and optimal diets, focusing on whole food, colorful, plant based choices to achieve the lowest risk of death. Do not be like Jim Fixx and think the gym gives you permission to eat a cheeseburger and fries. Please.