Eating healthy is equivalent to exercising physically, bringing the same benefits to the body as 4000 more steps a day would have… but sitting comfortably and enjoying one of life's pleasures. Without detracting from the importance of physical activity, which should always be practiced in a moderate and regular way, the study we are discussing today emphasizes how essential it is for our health to follow a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. The research was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology by an American team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University (Mi et al, EJPC, 2023).
Movement and healthy eating, the secret of long life
We all know that walking every day, perhaps at a brisk pace and for at least 20 minutes, is one of the healthiest choices that can be made to protect the heart and the whole organism, counteract the risk of diabetes, hypertension, depression but also cellular degeneration. However, we should never forget that diet also plays an essential role when it comes to health, providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances against free radicals, but also energy and proteins, essential for muscles. Indeed, nutrition and physical activity should always go hand in hand. After all, as today's study shows, those who eat healthy are even more fit than those who don't follow a healthy and balanced diet. But let's try to understand better.
Healthy eaters are fitter, the study
Scientists recruited 2380 adults, average age 54 years. Before the experiment, all the volunteers used to practice more or less the same physical activity in terms of duration and intensity. Study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their eating habits in order to score the quality of the diet. In particular, a high score meant a high similarity with the Mediterranean Diet thanks to a high intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and fish and a reduced consumption of red meat and alcohol. Then, all the volunteers underwent a treadmill session, during which parameters were measured to assess their fitness and health status. In particular, maximal oxygen consumption was measured, which is the maximum volume of oxygen a human being can consume during effort and is also considered a valid indicator of heart, muscle and skeletal health. A high value of maximum oxygen consumption is an indication of good health and previous studies had observed that an increase in this index is associated with faster and more positive courses in the case of cardiovascular disease but also with greater longevity (Blair et al , JAMA, 1995 - Swank et al, Circ Heart Fail, 2013). Well, what emerged is that those who followed a healthy diet and had a high score in terms of the quality of their diet also had higher values for this indicator than those who followed a more unbalanced diet. In particular, those who ate healthily were fitter as if they had taken 4,000 more steps each day.
Today we saw another study that demonstrates the importance of following a healthy and varied diet, which should get as close as possible to the Mediterranean diet. Eating healthy also has an impact on the body, muscles, skeleton and heart, as we have seen, giving us a physical shape as if we had taken an extra 4000 steps. This does not mean that diet can replace exercise but again that these two factors should be used in synergy to fight disease and live longer and healthier.