How to Splurge on Food and Stay Healthy

A new study from Great Britain suggests that you might be able to splurge on food without endangering your health. The secret, of course, is daily exercise. Researchers from the University of Bath recruited 26 young men who exercised regularly. None was obese, and none had any health problems that could contribute to diabetes. Half the volunteers were asked to spend 45 minutes a day running on a treadmill at a “moderately intense pace.” In addition, both groups of men were instructed to wear pedometers and cut their daily walking from an average of more than 10,000 steps a day to 4,000 or less (this didn’t count the treadmill time). All the men were told to start overeating substantially. The men who did not exercise on the treadmill were assigned to increase their daily caloric intake by 50 percent, while the men who exercised increased their intake by almost 75 percent. After a week, the researchers ran a series of tests on all of the volunteers. The upshot? The tests showed a decline in blood sugar control among the men who didn’t exercise, and genetic tests found unhealthy changes in the genes associated with metabolic processes. Meanwhile, the men who had exercised daily had no such negative changes, despite all the overeating.

My take? I am a great believer in the benefits of sensible, moderate exercise for healthy living and prudent weight loss. As someone who dreaded exercise for much of his life, I now don’t feel right if a day goes by without performing some type of physical activity. Here is a practical tip: If you want to unlearn old habits and develop new behaviors for a healthy lifestyle, spend time with people who have the habits you want. Your choice of friends and acquaintances is a powerful influence on your behavior. If you want exercise to be a part of your life, keep company with people who exercise regularly and enjoy it. This new study comes just in time to give us compelling new evidence that daily exercise can even help your health withstand the brief and occasional splurge.

J.P. Walter et al, “Exercise counteracts the effects of short-term overfeeding and reduced physical activity independent of energy imbalance in healthy young men,” Journal of Physiology, published online on November 25, 2013.

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