Diet vs Exercise - Which is most important?


Hello, my good friend, thank you for taking the time to read this important blog which, I think you will find very useful if you take on board what I must share with you today. I recently published a poll on my Instagram stories asking a question, what is more important, diet or exercise? Later, you can take a look at my page here and go through my Fitness stories to find the poll. I've been a personal trainer on the Wirral and Liverpool now for 20 years and noticed and noticed a wrong shift in thinking!


The poll result confirmed my suspicions of what most people think with regards to this but, I was not expecting such an overwhelming majority, 78% of people thought diet was more important than fitness & exercise.


In this blog I’m going to explain in detail why the majority of people have got this wrong! I will share with you my top 4 reasons why Fitness is a far more powerful component of body and life transformation than diet alone. I will touch on the nuances of this question to give you a well-rounded opinion to why I believe this is true and, why many (including most personal trainers) are failing to implement the single strongest factor to body transformation. I will also disclose my existing frustrations with the Fitness Industry and why it is lacking so much due to poor perspectives of what constitutes the role of a personal trainer.     


Before I start with my points, I’m not proposing that your diet is irrelevant, because that simply is not true, I’m sharing my personal and professional opinion on why our focus should be on fitness and exercise more than diet because, quite frankly, the total outcomes of fitness are far superior to that of just dieting alone.


My 4 key reasons are based upon the overwhelming scientific literature, key principles of human biology, human behaviour and, a blend of my 20 years experience as a personal trainer and weight loss specialist in Liverpool UK.

  1. Lean Muscle
  2. Your Brain Function
  3. Your Heart, Lungs and Energy levels
  4. Life Transformation


Let's get started!


Lean Muscle – If you did not know, muscle / body composition (muscle to fat mass ratio) is a far better predictor of life expectancy over BMI (total body weight). A study at UCLA conducted between 1988 and 1994 focused on a group of 3,659 individuals. The participants were men 55 or older and women who were 65 and older during the time of the survey. The aim was to determine how many of those individuals died of natural causes based upon a follow-up survey done in 2004. The outcome provided a very strong correlation, those with more lean muscle had a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality. If you want to geek-out, you can find the study here Muscle Mass Index as a Predictor of Longevity in Older-Adults. The American Journal of Medicine, 2014.


Body composition is the best focal point when you are looking to transform your body. Instead of the classic ‘I want to lose weight’ I suggest reframing your goal slightly, ‘I want to be Fit, Lean, Healthy and Strong’. And when you start thinking about this as your goal, (basically looking great in the mirror and living longer), you can now to start to see to do this, exercise moves to the top of the tree in order of priority. I discuss this more in-depth in my blog weight training for self confidence and a great body.


You cannot stimulate muscle tissue by diet alone, the only way to do it is by moving your ass. The stress placed on your muscular system will create the growth response allowing you to become lean and strong even when you are in a caloric deficit. Muscle is also very energetically expensive so, another great benefit is the increase in your metabolic rate which means you will be burning far more calories at rest. If burning more calories by sitting down does not grab your attention then, I don’t know what will. No exercise, no lean muscle, and if you avoid it then you’ll miss all the benefits lean muscle has to offer you which includes a longer life and looking awesome!


Your Brain Function -   The greatest risk factor of neural degenerative disease is ageing, the unfortunate fact of life we will all go through. From the age of 60 our memory, processing speed, and spatial awareness start to decline, in essence your brain, the thing that makes you, you, will slowly start to die. Alarming as this sounds there just happens to be something you can do about it, I’m sure you’ve guessed. 

For further reading take a look at my recent blog Cardio vascular exercise for your heart and mind to give you more of an insight.


A 2020 study published in the Journal of cerebral blood flow and metabolism which examined cerebrovascular, cognitive and neuroanatomical adaptations to ageing and the potential benefits of exercise on these outcomes in adults over 50. Below is a diagram highlighting the outcomes of exercise on the brain.


One of the interesting findings was a review on 80–90-year old’s already suffering dementia. After a 6-week exercise intervention there was a good improvement of visual & verbal memory and executive function. After all the studies were examined, the evidence clearly shows exercise significantly improves cognition and neural plasticity which are associated with executive function.


With this alone, I would personally, and professional suggest you place exercise at the top of your list of priorities if you want to optimise your brain and reduce this risk of neural degenerative disease. With regards to diet, there are many studies that show the benefits of healthy foods and their positive impact on the brain particularly the ketogenic diet however, all things considered, nothing can match the numerous positive outcomes of exercise on the brain.


Your Heart, Lungs & Energy Levels – I don’t know about you but I’m certainly keen to have oxygen flowing through my body and brain efficiently providing me with great levels of energy each day. It should be obvious that a diet cannot impact your heart and lung function like exercise can but, something you may not have considered is energy!


The mitochondria are the energy incubators of your body on a cellular level, metaphorically, they are the electrical power plants generating electricity to your home. In the cell they form ATP which is known as the energy currency of the body, and sticking to the analogy, ATP are like the power lines that deliver energy directly to your home from the power plants. When more power plants and powerlines are delivering energy to your home (Mitochondria & ATP) you have an abundance of power to use at your disposal.


When you become consistent with exercise the physiological adaptations provide you with more energy in the day. The immune system works better, your brain, in fact, every biological process in the body works better, so you’re now becoming an optimised piece of machinery strong enough to handle long days at work, a busy social calendar and life’s daily stresses whilst feeling your best. Being on your A-Game is not just for high performing athletes and CEO’s, it is for every single one of us that is dealing with the 21st Century high stress world whilst trying to live our best life.


To put into perspective the incredible return of energy from exercise, this study Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans demonstrates the staggering outcomes based on a 12 week exercise intervention, to save you time, here are the headlines that blew me away:

  • Increased Mitochondria (energy cells) by 49-69%
  • Reversal of age-related decline of mitochondrial function
  • Robust increase in muscle protein synthesis


These results are remarkable and, they are the norm for those who undergo a specifically structured exercise routine. Although diet plays a role, it will not produce results anywhere close to this on a cellular level.

 I go deeper into these benefits in my previous blog Fitness for a high performing Mind, Body, and Life.


Life Transformation – To explain how exercise has such a profound impact on your life, I’m going to merge the 3 previous benefits together by extracting the unquestionable outcomes referenced in the studies:

  1. Efficient heart & lungs
  2. Decreased risk of heart disease
  3. Greatly improved aesthetic look
  4. Increased longevity
  5. Better functioning brain
  6. Decreased risk of dementia & better focus and concentration
  7. Up to 70% more energy
  8. Greatly increased vitality


Both the direct and indirect benefits above provide an incredibly powerful platform for you to live an awesome life. Imagine how good things would be if you had a great looking body, up to 70% more energy, greatly enhanced levels of focus and concentration and the greatly decreased risk of disease. Now take it a step further, if you had all the above, I’m sure you will agree you’d be a better partner, parent, boss, employee, lover and above all, a better person!


To ignore how advantageous this could be for you is quite frankly, crazy! I’d like to circle back to my early point on why so many people including personal trainers have got this wrong.


Unfortunately, you’ve been misled by  many fitness trainers, diet groups and the food industry who have all done a great job in pushing the diet agenda. To be honest, it does seem to make sense as most of the UK & US population are overweight/obese from eating too much but, for decades now the diet wars have continued from all corners and, the nation has simply got fatter.


In the digital age we now live the western world is incredible sedentary, we are far away from the times of walking 5 miles each day looking for food, building shelters, hunting and all the other physical activities necessary for the survival of man. Personal trainers are talking too much about the law of thermal dynamics and calorie deficits, the food and diet industry are too busy trying to make money from you and because of this, the most effective component of body transformation (fitness) is lagging well behind.


If a personal trainer is worth his/her salt, they should be focused on teaching you how to exercise effectively to improve your body composition and your health. Avoid the personal trainer who’s favourite two words are ‘calorie deficit’ and look for the trainer who does their job they were trained to do as a Health & Fitness practitioner (helping you with all components of your health & fitness). A good trainer will help you become proficient in the world of exercise and move you into a space where you can do it consistently within your lifestyle through effective coaching.


Of course, your diet is important to address and get help with but, the biggest focus should be your fitness and enjoying the benefits we have covered in this blog. Move away from the dreaded diet that you’ll never stick to and move into a space of making necessary tweaks by removing or cutting down the biggest things causing you a problem. With a couple of tweaks in your diet tied in with a consistent pattern of exercise you are on a fast track to everything I’ve shared with you today… and more!  


To conclude

Focus on exercise more than diet and look for something you enjoy doing and keep consistent (more on consistency in my blog 4 steps to create habits that stick) , cycling, walking, gym, running, climbing, team sports, individual sports, the list goes on. Personally, I think a combination of a couple of different activities keeps things interesting. Learn how to implement your exercise into your life, you should be moving deliberately every day, so you will need to make space for it with a little planning.

If you haven’t already got your running trainers on or picked up your kettlebell from out the garage, then what are you waiting for? Master the art of exercise, make it a priority, tweak the diet a little and just watch what happens my friend, you will soon be Fit, Lean, Healthy, Strong, and living a great life. But this will only happen through… Fitness & Exercise!


If you need any help from me to execute fitness and exercise into your life, my Mind Body Life coaching programme will take you through a step-by-step process of exactly how to overcome any of your Mindset problems, give you access to all the Fitness and Training video programmes you will ever need and, a complete road map of how to master Weight Loss, Nutrition, Sleep, Stress and Lifestyle goals. Find out more here

Feel free to get in touch via my [email protected] or through any of my social media platforms:

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Instagram  @Lewbaileycoach


Until next time.

Keep Fit & Healthy





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