Moderate Diet, Moderate Exercise, Real Heart Health

Heart and Its Blood VesselsPeople are fond of saying you can’t outrun a bad diet. Taking that catchphrase to a more positive track, a new study in Circulation tells us that running to a better diet can deliver better heart health. The study showed the effects a healthy diet with a modest calorie reduction combined with moderate exercise. This combination yielded improvements in heart health, along with a weight loss of almost ten percent. Without calorie reduction, there was little weight loss and no improvement in heart health.

But a more intensive calorie reduction did not yield further benefits. In fact, cutting twice as many calories delivered no more weight loss. Not only that, the researchers did not find a heart health benefit in the group with a more intensive diet.

An RCT with Three Arms

Tina Brinkley and colleagues randomly assigned 160 older sedentary adults with obesity to three different groups.  All three groups received aerobic exercise training. But only two of the groups received a dietary program. In the dietary programs, subjects received prepared lunches and dinners. For breakfast, subjects made their own, following menus from a dietitian. One of the diet groups cut their calories by about 200 calories. The other group cut much more – 600 calories. The exercise only group simply kept eating their usual diet.

Moderate Calorie Reduction Works

The groups with the dietary changes lost similar amounts of weight – nearly ten percent after five months. But the group that was supposed to cut more calories did not lose any more weight. And the group following their usual diet lost only about three pounds on average. That was significantly less than the two diet groups. Brinkley explained their findings:

“These results suggest that combining exercise with modest calorie restriction – as opposed to more intensive calorie restriction or no-calorie restriction – likely maximizes the benefits on vascular health, while also optimizing weight loss and improvements in body composition and body fat distribution.

“The finding that higher-intensity calorie restriction may not be necessary or advised has important implications for weight loss recommendations to improve cardiovascular disease risk in older adults with obesity.”

Perhaps in this instance, enough is enough. The combination of moderate dietary changes and moderate aerobic exercise seems to work for better heart health.

Click here for the study and here for further perspective.

Heart and Its Blood Vessels, sketch and study by Leonardo da Vinci / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


August 3, 2021