Diet and exercise changes best tackled together
A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that weight loss programs that included both diet changes and physical activity were more effective than programs that focused on diet changes or physical activity alone.
For the study, researchers recruited 200 participants, ages 45 or older, who did not exercise regularly, had a poor diet and were not actively trying to lose weight. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of four telephone-coaching groups. One group has telephone coaching sessions with a coach who helped them change their diet, but not tackle exercise right away. Another group had a telephone coach who helped them exercise but not change their diet right away. The third group had telephone coaches who pushed them to change their diet and exercise at the same time. And the fourth group received no coaching on diet or exercise habits. Instead they were coached on how to manage stress. All the participants were coached and monitored for 12 months.
The researchers then tracked how the study participants did in meeting U.S. national guidelines of five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day, plus less than 10 percent of caloric input coming from saturated fats, and at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. The ones who only started with changes to diet did well in meeting the diet guidelines, but not the exercise ones. The group that started with exercise only did well in both, but the most successful in meeting all guidelines were those who focused on both diet and exercise.
The study showed that people who are pushed to change both diet and exercise habits at the same time can be the most successful in making and maintaining healthy lifestyle changes, despite the challenge of making those changes within an already busy lifestyle.