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Diet vs. Exercise: What’s More Important?

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By Ann Pietrangelo

“If everyone was a healthy weight we could close half the hospitals and get rid of half the doctors," according to Philip Caravella, M.D., F.A.A.F.P. The family physician says obesity and being overweight are the leading causes of serious medical problems.

“The huge costs of medical care and medical insurance could be dramatically reduced if people understood the importance of fitness and normal weight," he said.

Caravella believes a nutritionally sound diet and exercise are both important for maintaining a healthy weight, but not enough credit is given to exercise. Photo credit: Thinkstock

So, is It the Diet or is It the Sedentary Lifestyle?

Caravella believes a nutritionally sound diet and exercise are both important for maintaining a healthy weight, but not enough credit is given to exercise.

“Experts focus on diet as the main cause of obesity when it isn't," Caravella said in an interview. He's been studying the cause and effect of obesity for 20 years.

Nutrition incorporates the building blocks," he explained. “Exercise is the tool to build your body into the fine, precision machine it can be. They are entirely different from each other, yet critical to each other just as cement and steel are the requisites of a well-engineered building. Exercise gives you strength and power. A sound diet provides the building blocks. One without the other will result in a deficient, inadequate body that is full of compromises, weaknesses and potential problems as time goes on. Good exercise yields strength and minimizes the effects of a diet that sometimes is too rich in sugars, carbohydrates and fats and is nutritionally deficient in vitamins and minerals."

Why is Weight Control So Important?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, obesity is often a contributing factor in:

  • gallstones
  • arthritis
  • fertility problems
  • sleep apnea and other breathing disorders
  • high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol
  • high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke
  • type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome
  • some types of cancer

When it comes to the nutrition part of the equation, Caravella's advice is simple and will come as no surprise to regular Care2 readers. Our diets should consist of foods that exist in nature. “We've gotten way away from that in modern times because of processed foods, cakes, cookies, etc. We should focus on what lives and grows out in nature, not what our modern diet has morphed into."

He believes that focus on natural foods should start with infants. “Breastfeeding lowers the incidence of obesity and leads to a healthier life all around. We need to change nutrition from the get go. We should give them foods that are natural. If you don't introduce babies to processed foods, they'll have no interest in them."

Exercise is Good for Your State of Mind, Too

In addition to warding off serious health problems, exercise helps increase endurance, promotes good balance and keeps you flexible—all of which help get you through the day at your best.

“Exercise improves general well-being, one's intellect, their sense of purpose, their emotional goodness and dispositions, their sleep patterns and especially their ability to interact with others," according to Caravella. “Fit men and women will have an easier chance of attracting a significant other. People who exercise often will have less anxiety and depression. If they feel great about themselves, they will also feel excellent around others. With good form comes great personal achievement."

What is a Healthy Weight and How Do You Get Started?

To determine your healthy weight goal, you need to evaluate your body mass index (BMI). Dr. Caravella explains how to go about that in his book, Weight No Longer: The Prescription for Amazing Fitness & Living.

If you haven't been exercising regularly, he recommends consulting with your doctor first. Your general health, medications and pre-existing medical problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure must be considered before you start a regular exercise program. If you're going to do it, you want to do it right.

Do you happen to be one of those rare people who never exercises but still manages to maintain a good weight? Well, don't be too quick to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. You still need to exercise to prevent health problems, keep your bones and muscles healthy and boost your emotional well-being.

“All who exercise—regardless of their weight—will enjoy a longer, healthier life; diminishing their chances of developing dementia and arthritic conditions later down the line," said Caravella.

“Exercise fine-tunes our bodies. It prepares us for the unexpected while giving us the ability to participate in nearly any activity that most would find to be enjoyable. Life is worth living when your body is worth having."

I couldn't agree more. We've only got one body to get us through this life and it's worth keeping it in good shape. And once you get used to regular exercise, it's actually hard not to exercise.

If you need a little inspiration, Caravella put it quite succinctly: “We all make compromises. Exercise must never be one of them."

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