A healthy diet and the right amount of exercise are key players in treating and preventing obesity but we still know little about the relationship both factors have with each other. A new study now reveals that an increase in physical activity is linked to an improvement in diet quality.
“Understanding the interaction between exercise and a healthy diet could improve preventative and therapeutic measures against obesity by strengthening current approaches and treatments,” explains Miguel Alonso Alonso, researcher at Harvard University (USA).
The data from epidemiological studies suggest that tendencies towards a healthy diet and the right amount of physical exercise often come hand in hand. Furthermore, an increase in physical activity is usually linked to a parallel improvement in diet quality.
Exercise also brings benefits such as an increase in sensitivity to physiological signs of fullness.
According to Alonso Alonso, “physical exercise seems to encourage a healthy diet. In fact, when exercise is added to a weight-loss diet, treatment of obesity is more successful and the diet is adhered to in the long run.”
The authors of the study state how important it is for social policy to encourage and facilitate sport and physical exercise amongst the population.
Eating and physical activity are behaviours and are therefore influenced by cognitive processes that are a result of activity in different areas of the brain. Previous studies have already assessed changes in the brain and cognitive functions in relation to exercise: regular physical exercise causes changes in the working and structure of the brain.
The experts point out that these changes seem to have a certain specificity. The Harvard researcher supports the notion that “regular exercise improves output in tests that measure the state of the brain’s executive functions and increases the amount of grey matter and prefrontal connections.”
With regards to losing weight and sustaining weight loss in the long run, various recent studies suggest that executive functions such as inhibitory control and optimal functioning of the brain’s prefrontal areas could be the key to success. This success is mainly the fruit of a behavioural change. Inhibitory control could also help to prevent weight gain in healthy people.
Furthermore, along with other Mediterranean countries, Spain has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe. The experts are urging society to become aware of the problem and join forces to prevent and treat all types of obesity.
Source: FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, Spain