Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have found that regular exercise can lead people to make healthier food choices overall.
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, followed 2,680 adults who neither exercised regularly nor dieted.
After 15 weeks of consistent aerobic workouts, researchers reported that the once-sedentary participants were more likely to reach for fruits and veggies instead of fried foods and sodas.
“People often think that if you start exercising, [you] will feel more hungry and you will offset your work,” Molly Bray, chair of UT’s department of nutritional sciences and lead author of the study, tells The Post. “But the data doesn’t support at all . . . There is a nice consequence of being physically active.”
Participants aged 18 to 35 hit the gym for 30 minutes of intense aerobic activity on stationary bikes, treadmills or elliptical machines three times a week.
They were instructed to not tinker with their diet — but researchers found that their cravings naturally shifted from the takeout window to the produce aisle.
“I think it’s a combination of conscious and unconscious,” says Bray of the dietary shift. “They find they are more capable than they thought, and it enables them to make other healthy changes.” Although the study doesn’t delve into the reasoning behind the change, she thinks it’s possible that the biological impact of exercise matters too, especially because working out can increase “feel-good” chemicals in your brain, such as dopamine or serotonin.
The findings resonate with 39-year-old Jacob Harb, who recently left a travel-packed job as a Porsche executive to open a restaurant, Yara, in Midtown.
Not exercising “starts to infringe on your decision making,” says the Hell’s Kitchen resident, who says he found himself snacking on chips when he couldn’t squeeze in workouts. “There were weeks that I had to force myself to the gym to get back on track.”
Now that his hours are less crazy, Harb is finding it easier to stick to his regular routine — yoga, sprints and weights — and to his Mediterranean-focused diet.
“It’s good to have this validated with research,” says Harb.
Bray says the findings should change how we, as a society, approach nutrition and overall health.
“People focus a lot on dieting and deprivation,” says Bray. “I think if you said, ‘Introduce this aspect into your routine,’ rather than, ‘Take this aspect away from your life,’ it might resonate more.”
Source: New York Post