Is exercise or diet more important in getting fit?
MyFitness trainer and nutritional therapist Kendra Kairi Vaino says that although it is important to combine exercise with the right nutrition to get in shape and achieve robust health, 80% of the results depend on eating well.
Asked which is more important – healthy eating or exercising – Vaino says the answer is clearly what we eat. “The nutrients we need are a source of energy to us, so if something’s off in your diet, you often lack the drive and the strength to exercise,” she explains, adding that eating well not only supports you on a day-to-day basis but also gives you an injection of youth, an energy boost and a more resilient immune system.
Kendra says diets should primarily be needs-based and that people should not go on them simply to lose weight. “If you do want to shed a few kilos, the best way of going about it is by adjusting your eating habits and making sure you’re getting something from all the food groups in the right amounts, according to the national recommendations,” she says. “That will ensure balance, and it forms the basis of lasting results. More often than not, the biggest mistake people who are trying to get to their ideal weight make is sprinting for the finishing line rather than pacing themselves. Their daily calorie intake falls away almost to nothing and their body finds it very difficult to get the vitamins and minerals it needs, so it switches to economy mode, which isn’t healthy at all.” She advises that the most sensible way of bringing your weight down is to cut out around 300 calories from your everyday energy needs and to increase your level of physical activity.
“You have to eat consciously, control your portion size, balance what you’re eating among the food groups and also vary what you eat within each food group,” Kendra says. If everyone approached nutrition this way, she remarks, Internet diets would disappear overnight. “They hardly ever strike the right balance in terms of the food groups, and on top of that they provide relatively little variation in each group,” she says.
What’s wrong with what people in Estonia are eating?
Kendra says that the most common failing among Estonian eaters is their love of sweets and sweetened drinks and their preference for animal fats (in the form of eggs, meat and dairy products) over vegetable fats. “Too much sugar can lead to type II diabetes, which is growing as a lifestyle illness,” she warns. “Excess intake of animal fats is also a key risk factor in coronary and cardiovascular disease, since it raises your cholesterol level.”
The nutrition expert says that we are consuming too much from the very top of the food pyramid – which the body needs least of all. “What our cells need for their metabolism to be effective and to obtain all the vitamins and minerals they need is vegetable fats,” she explains.
Kendra urges people to think of food as fuel for our bodies and to pay more attention to what they eat. “We should avoid eating in front of the TV, at the wheel or at the computer, where we’re often not even consciously aware that we are eating, let alone what or how much we’re shoving in our mouths,” she says, advising everyone to take time to eat. If we are constantly stressed, our bodies will not obtain all of the vitamins and minerals they should be getting from the food we eat.
The right amount of exercise will produce 20% of the results
Kendra says that while healthy eating is important, people must not forget to exercise – in regard to which Estonian nutrition advisers and therapists are guided by the nutrition and exercise recommendations compiled by the National Institute for Health Development on the basis of scientific studies. According to these recommendations, adults should be doing at least 150 minutes of medium-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.
The MyFitness trainer knows this is the bare minimum: 300 minutes of medium-intensity exercise is considered more appropriate, including wide-ranging activities like jogging, daily bike-riding, mowing the lawn and simpler group training, or 150 minutes of high-intensity exercise, such as strength training and high-tempo group sessions. “If you divide it all up throughout the week, it’s best to aim for three 50-minute sessions that are more intensive,” she advises.
Kendra says that consistency is more important than anything else if you truly want to bring about change, avoiding overdoing things (and sending your body into shock in the process) or falling off the wagon straight away. “Don’t make a 180 turn overnight, but start making smaller changes one at a time,” she says. “That way, over time, you’ll get used to them and they’ll become healthy habits. Change that brings about the results you want should happen gradually so that your body has time to adjust to it, whether it’s in your diet or the exercise you’re doing.”