Starting to exercise motivates better eating habits for weight loss automatically, new research finds.
People who exercise regularly improve their diet without any special effort.
Formerly sedentary people tended to choose more fruits, vegetables and lean meats after starting to exercise, the study found.
Similarly, starting to exercise lowered people’s preference for sugar-laden sodas and fried foods.
This dietary change happened despite the fact that study participants were not given any instructions to change their diets.
These kinds of dietary changes are likely to lead to weight loss.
Professor Molly Bray, study co-author, said:
“The process of becoming physically active can influence dietary behavior.
One of the reasons that we need to promote exercise is for the healthy habits it can create in other areas. That combination is very powerful.”
For the study, 2,680 people’s exercise and eating habits were tracked.
Those who said they exercised less than 30 minutes per week began aerobic workouts three times a week over 15 months.
The sessions were 30 minutes long and included a variety of workouts such as treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes.
The results showed that people automatically ate more healthily and reduced their snacking after they began to exercise.
Professor Bray said:
“Many people in the study didn’t know they had this active, healthy person inside them.
Some of them thought their size was inevitable. For many of these young people, they are choosing what to eat and when to exercise for the first time in their lives.”
Previous studies on animals have shown that exercise changes levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
This, in turn, reduces the preference for high-fat foods.
More exercise is likely to be linked to a greater shift towards a healthier diet.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity (Joo et al., 2019).