Commencing an exercise routine helps to improve people’s eating habits automatically, research finds.
People in the study who started exercising improved their diet without consciously trying.
Researchers found that people who used to be sedentary started eating more vegetables, lean meats and fruits after beginning to exercise.
Being more active also led to people avoiding fried foods and sugar.
People made the change spontaneously, without being instructed to by researchers.
The reason could be that exercise increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine reduces the desire for high-fat foods.
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.”
The study included 2,680 people whose eating and exercise habits were followed.
People who did less than 30 minutes exercise per week began aerobic workouts on three days a week across 15 months.
Each session was half-an-hour long and included a variety of workouts, including using stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines.
The researchers found that people who began working out automatically started eating more healthily.
After beginning to exercise, they also reduced their snacking.
Reducing snacking has also been linked to increased exercise motivation.
So, this suggests the operation of a virtuous circle.
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.”
Regular jogging is the best exercise for weight loss, some research concludes.
Other exercises that are good for combating a genetic predisposition towards obesity are:
- walking and power walking,
- formal dancing, such as the waltz, tango, foxtrot and quickstep.
- mountain climbing,
- and practising yoga for a long period.
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, 2013) 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).