Young overweight man with towel resting in park

(© New Africa -

SYDNEY, Australia — Exercise alone won’t compensate for a poor diet, according to researchers from the University of Sydney. Even if you spend all day and night in the gym or running laps, you’re still better off steering clear of fatty, processed foods. Researchers conclude that high levels of physical activity do not counteract the detrimental effects of a poor diet on mortality risk.

Study authors add individuals who both exercised frequently and stuck to a healthy diet displayed the lowest mortality risks. In other words, that’s the way to go!

The team examined the independent and combined effects of diet and physical activity on all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality risk among a large collection of British adults (360,600). That data was provided by the UK Biobank Project, an ongoing, large-scale biomedical study monitoring participants’ biological, behavioral, and health fluctuations over time.

What does ‘eating healthy’ look like?

For the purposes of this study, researchers defined a high-quality diet as anything including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, two portions of fish weekly, and an overall low consumption of red and processed meats.

In comparison to those who were either inactive and following a poor diet, people who exercised regularly and ate a healthy diet displayed a 17-percent lower all-cause mortality risk, a 19-percent lower cardiovascular disease mortality risk, and a 27-percent lower mortality risk associated with certain cancers.

“Both regular physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in promoting health and longevity,” says lead study author Associate Professor Melody Ding from the Charles Perkins Centre and the Faculty of Medicine and Health in a university release. “Some people may think they could offset the impacts of a poor diet with high levels of exercise or offset the impacts of low physical activity with a high-quality diet, but the data shows that unfortunately this is not the case.”

“Adhering to both a quality diet and sufficient physical activity is important for optimally reducing the risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancers,” adds study co-author Joe Van Buskirk, from the School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

While earlier projects suggest intense exercise may help defend against detrimental physiological responses to overeating, the Australian team says the long-term nature of how diet and exercise interact with each other to dictate health outcomes remains woefully understudied. This work, at least, confirms the importance of exercise and quality diet in relation to all-cause and cause-specific risks of death.

“This study reinforces the importance of both physical activity and diet quality for achieving the greatest reduction in mortality risk,” Prof. Ding concludes. “Public health messages and clinical advice should focus on promoting both physical activity and dietary guidelines to promote healthy longevity.”

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor


  1. LWAP says:

    Still warring on fat. While every study shows that fats other than trans have little impact on health. And that it is simple sugars that cause so many health problems. Yet some of you can’t get with the science on the issue!

    1. Ken says:

      Agree with you on simple sugars but disagree that a high fat diet is healthy. A high fat diet will raise your LDL, which is bad for your heart, and is low in fruits and vegetables which will raise your cancer risk. It makes sense that the study shows high mortality despite exercise. Cut out the sugar, but have an apple (and hold the bacon)

    2. Carole says:

      Agree, Sugar is our enemy. I do not eat processed food, I always cook a meal, Mediterranean, healthy, olive oil, make it look pretty, I eat my veggies, I forget to eat fruit, I’m afraid I do like a roast potato. But hey I’m size 2 and 140 pounds, well I want to be 135 so I’m OK, i did go to the gym. But got a brain virus from COVID so that has stopped for a while..

    3. Ricki says:

      I agree smart diet is essential. But there is a huge difference between a couch potato and someone that works off that cheeseburger in the gym. I work out at home with bands and straps. I also DON’T eat like a rabbit but I do like salads. Even at my age, I’ve LOST more weight than I put on. It depends on genetics but working out is the reason you can’t always tell if someone gets their food from Taco Bell.

  2. joshua says:

    and if you don’t seafood then you miss out on a high quality diet? Besides that, I doubt people normally consume 5 portions of fruit every day.

  3. JCfromAZ says:


  4. Vox Veritatis says:

    Ah, but a poor diet CAN de-compensate for exercise.

    Script flipped on ya.

  5. Gomes says:

    I can barely afford meat anymore. Daily fruits and vegetables are a distant memory of good days gone by. We are labor workers in this household so protein and carbs are a must. Gotta be able to work. I miss feeling satisfied and healthy.

  6. Petr says:

    Hard to believe most people would
    Rather suffer from poor health mentally and physically than give up those crappy foods