Carville: Which is better, diet or exercise? |

Carville: Which is better, diet or exercise?

Phil Carville
Fitness Columnist

Phil Carville, in his 60s, scales the northwest face of Half Dome at Yosemite.

This is the second in a series of articles specifically addressing the health and fitness issues for seniors of Nevada County. Today Phil Carville addresses which is better — diet or exercise?

Over the past two decades, the average senior has gained 23 pounds … some of us much more.

We've gained weight for basically two reasons: We exercise too little, and we eat too much fast foods, snacks and processed foods.

Since excess weight makes us feel bad and exposes us to some chronic, longterm diseases, we also know we should lose those extra pounds. So the question becomes "What is the best way to improve health and lose weight – diet or exercise?" For some of us, this is a decision with life-threatening consequences.

Since messages can be lost in 'weighty' (pun intended) paragraphs, I am going to make it easy by creating a numbered list. If you cut out this article and tape it to your refrigerator, you will have a simple set of reminders to follow each day.

Here we go.

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1. Lose weight — The winner is diet.

It is easier to cut 400 calories/day than to burn 400 calories with exercise. But there is a big caveat here. If you just cut back on calories, you are more likely to regain the weight because your body reacts to calorie deprivation by slowing down your metabolism. Slower metabolism translates to fewer calories burned, even while your body is at rest. Not a good scenario by itself. So, you will drop weight but not necessarily be healthier.

2. Increase energy — The winner is exercise.

When you exercise regularly you do more than just burn calories. You increase the number of calories you burn at rest. The phenomenon is called Resting Energy Expenditure (REE — the calories burned during a 24-hour period while the body is at rest). Pretty cool, losing weight while watching TV, sitting at your desk or even sleeping. Yes – while you are sleeping. Your REE will remain elevated if you engage in moderate exercise at least three times per week.

3. Prevent diabetes — The winner is exercise.

Twenty-six million Americans have diabetes. Of those 26 million, seniors (65-plus) comprise 10.9 million. Diabetes is a tragic disease: blindness, nerve damage, amputation, kidney failure, diabetic retinopathy, strokes, hearing loss, and the list goes on. Both diet and exercise are essential to countering the effects of diabetes, but exercise has an advantage because active muscles consume glucose as fuel. Even if you don't have diabetes now, it could be just around the corner if you are overweight.

4. Reduce risk of heart disease — The winner is diet.

If there were one dietary ingredient that would lower your risk of heart disease, it would be omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish. Exercise is important and so is advice from your doctor. Your Doc would encourage you to eat better, exercise more and perhaps take some cholesterol lowering drug. But, fish oil and exercise are natural and practically free.

5. Prevent cancer — The winner is both.

Yes, eating a mostly plant-based diet and working out regularly is the gold standard for avoiding cancer. Studies have shown that the more you work out, the lower your risk of cancer. REPEAT: Exercise is one of the most important actions you can take to help guard against many types of cancer. One-third of all cancer-related deaths, including the two most common cancers in the United States —breast and colon cancer— are due to obesity and sedentary lifestyle.

6. Improved mood and fight depression — the winner is exercise.

Work up a sweat with 20 minutes of exercise and your mood will pick up for the next 12-plus hours. Your body naturally releases euphoric feelings during and after exercise. Endorphins released by the pituitary gland make you feel exhilarated. Estrogens for women tend to burn fat for fuel. Dopamines are the body's pleasure chemicals. Growth factor hormone-like compounds stimulate and regulate muscle production. Serotonin increases happiness, restful sleep and healthy appetite.

Well, we finished the list. The overall answer to the question of which is best is — BOTH. You need to eat natural foods in appropriate amounts and you need to exercise appropriately for your age and physical condition. So take yourself seriously and have some fun.

Tape these six steps to the 'refrig' and read them before you open the door.

Peace and health.

Phil Carville is a longtime Nevada County resident and co-owner of the South Yuba Club, Strength & Wellness. He encourages comments and questions. He can be reached at

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