Balancing Physical Activity with Optimal Health
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
We all eat and we all move, but how do we balance the amount of food we eat with our physical activity level? It really depends on the goal – are we trying to lose, gain, or maintain our current weight? – and just how much and how intense the exercise is that we engage in. So how do we achieve the balance that aligns with our goals? The answer, of course, goes back to bio-individuality. The ideal food-to-activity ratio varies for each person (and can even vary within the same person at times). However, some basic principles hold true as a guide for all of us: eat real food, drink plenty of water, breathe clean air, and move the body for optimal personal wellness. When it comes to burning calories, we have to look at how food is metabolized (broken down and converted to energy), which, again, is different for all of us. Our metabolism shifts based on age, weight, activity level, body temperature, fidgetiness, hormonal shifts – there’s a lot involved! In general, if we consume extra calories that our body cannot use, the body will store that energy for later use – as fat. The goal is to eat the amount of food that our body needs to run efficiently at the physical activity level that we engage in.
HOW DO WE DETERMINE IF WE ARE EATING “EXTRA” CALORIES?
First, we need to estimate how many calories our body uses throughout the day to survive. This is called our basal metabolic rate (BMR). There are several resources to determine your BMR, including online calculators, special equipment at the doctor’s office, and relatively simple math. There are two standard equations commonly used to figure out BMRs: the original Harris Benedict Equation and the updated Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation. The difference between the results is usually less than 100 calories a day, so both work for basic estimations. The key is to establish a baseline of the calories needed to sustain you – keep in mind that there are bound to be variations. Consider this an exercise to determine if your daily intake is significantly higher or lower than your answer.
If you adjust your physical activity levels, you should also adjust your diet to balance and support your new exercise regimen. If you’re looking to lose weight, severely reducing calories is not the answer. In fact, this puts your body in conservation mode – encouraging your metabolism to slow down and adjust to the decreased amount of calories paired with the increased physical demand. Over time, this is likely to cause a breakdown in muscle, which will continue to lower your overall metabolic rate and make healthy weight loss even more difficult. However, not all calories are created equal – whole, nutrient-dense foods nourish and protect your body more than calories from highly processed foods, which offer energy but contain little by way of nutrition.