Which is more effective for weight loss? Diet or exercise?

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – If you’re trying to lose weight, which one should you tackle first: diet or exercise? Research points to diet.

“If we’re looking at which one is going to bring about the most weight loss in the shortest amount of time, then sure, nutrition and diet is going to play a bigger role,” says Kara Mohr, Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology and a behavioral weight loss expert.

A year-long study done in 2011 put diet against exercise among post-menopausal women. After 12 months, it found the group of women who only changed their diet lost an average of 8.5 percent of their body weight. The group of women who only exercised – without changing their diet – lost 2.4 percent of their body weight. The third group that mixed both diet and exercise lost an average of 10.8 percent of their total weight.

“We know that a lot of time the activity that you’re doing is just not going to outweigh [the calories] you’re bringing in,” says Fred Hoffman, owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services and an international fitness expert.

Mohr and Hoffman are both members of the American College of Sports Medicine headquartered in downtown Indianapolis. ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.

Both experts stress weight loss isn’t the only worthwhile goal. Exercise has a big upside for health beyond potential weight loss. Many studies and reviews detail how physical activity can improve outcomes in musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological diseases and depression.

“We know it’s so much more than just what you weigh – it’s how healthy you are, how strong you are – and all those factors predict your longevity in life,” says Mohr. “So we really need to turn the table a little bit and say ‘which one is going to be most important long term’ and I think that’s when we have some combination of diet and exercise.”

Hoffman suggests adherence to a healthy lifestyle should be the main priority and urges people to start with whichever discipline they feel they could have the most success.

“You have to start somewhere and it might be just adherence to something – so if you can get someone started on a healthy diet, and then go from there and add in the exercise or vice-versa,” says Hoffman.

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