It is not uncommon to have athletes present to our Boulder Physical Therapy practice who exceed the national guidelines on weekly amounts of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise (150 and 75 minutes, respectively). Especially among younger athletes, diet and sleep are often overlooked and not given the same focus as their exercise totals. Common expressions include, “I can eat whatever I want because I burn off the calories”. From an energy balance perspective this is absolutely true, but from an overall health, tissue healing, and disease risk perspective the story has a different ending. In this latter perspective, the food we eat to fuel our bodies during exercise plays a significant role in our current and future health. Intuitively this makes sense, but a recent scientific article documents its’ importance.
A large population based, prospective cohort study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Ding et al. 2022). Authors utilized a United Kingdom health database associated with the National Health Service to follow close to 350,000 participants on their diet quality, exercise habits, and disease occurrence. Correlations were then drawn between these two health habits and a participants onset of early all cause death or disease including heart disease and cancer. As expected, higher amounts of weekly vigorous exercise was associated with lower risk of early death and disease. In addition, the lowest risk for early death and diseases was found among individuals who not only exercised but also had the highest quality diets.