Caloric restriction - even better with exercise

Studies have suggested that restricting number of calories consumed while maintaining adequate nutrition extends lifespan. Although human research on the subject of caloric restriction (CR) is still in its early stages, studies on a number of different species have shown that metabolic rate slows, body temperature decreases, and lifespan is dramatically elongated when calories are restricted. In experimental animals, long-term CR with adequate nutrition is the most effective means to slow aging and prolong lifespan.1 Humans practicing caloric restriction (CR) tend to have low body fat, low levels of chronic inflammation, low blood pressure, and low levels of cardiovascular disease risk factors.2

We know that exercise benefits the cardiovascular system and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Regular aerobic exercise increases the heart’s pumping efficiency, reduces resting heart rate and blood pressure, decreases total and LDL cholesterol, decreases triglycerides, and reduces stress.3,4

An interesting study posed this question:

For overweight individuals, which produces greater cardiovascular benefit: weight loss via restricting a certain amount of calories from the diet or weight loss via restricting a half of those calories from the diet and burning the other half via exercise?

As part of a larger human study on CR and longevity, 36 overweight participants were assigned to one of three groups for a period of six months: a control group who ate a weight-maintaining quantity of calories, a group who restricted calories by 25% (CR), or a group who restricted calories by 12.5% and burned another 12.5% via exercise (CR+EX).

After six months, weight loss, total fat loss, visceral fat loss, and systolic blood pressure (top number) reduction were similar between the CR and CR+EX groups. However, only the CR+EX group showed significant improvements in diastolic blood pressure (bottom number), LDL cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity.5

Achieving a healthy weight by restricting calories is beneficial, but this is only one component of a disease-preventing lifestyle. This study demonstrates that exercise provides cardiovascular benefit above and beyond calorie restriction alone for individuals attempting to lose weight. According to these results, those practicing calorie restriction with the intention of achieving enhanced longevity can expect to reap additional benefits from exercise.

A Nutritarian diet-style effectively and naturally reduces calories by providing a high volume of high nutrient low calorie foods, providing phytochemical benefit along with a smaller number of calories. For achieving excellent health, exercise is an essential addition to this healthy eating style.



1. Fontana L. The scientific basis of caloric restriction leading to longer life. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2009 Mar;25(2):144-50.

2. Holloszy JO, Fontana L. Caloric restriction in humans. Exp Gerontol. 2007 Aug;42(8):709-12. Epub 2007 Mar 31.

Fontana L, Villareal DT, Weiss EP, et al. Calorie restriction or exercise: effects on coronary heart disease risk factors. A randomized, controlled trial. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jul;293(1):E197-202.

3. Sasaki JE, dos Santos MG. The role of aerobic exercise on endothelial function and on cardiovascular risk factors. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2006 Nov;87(5):e226-31.

4. Wagenmakers AJ, van Riel NA, Frenneaux MP, Stewart PM. Integration of themetabolic and cardiovascular effects of exercise. Essays Biochem.2006;42:193-210.

5. Larson-Meyer DE, Redman L, Heilbronn LK, et al. Caloric restriction with or without exercise: the fitness versus fatness debate. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan;42(1):152-9.

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StephenMarkTurner - June 17, 2010 10:10 AM

Hi Deanna

Do you know if the calorie restriction was accomplished via nutritarian style diet, or the more typical portion controlled eat less of the standard diet? That might affect the data a lot.

I would be extremely interested in a comparison between nutritarian caloric restriction, and typical portion control + exercise.

Cheers, Steve

Annie - June 17, 2010 10:20 AM

what if you can't even walk? I have morton's neuroma (or gout, they aren't sure unless I get an MRI, which i cannot afford) and can't afford surgery or a hormone injection to fix it, no insurance :( I have started your book eat for health and started stretching in ways that don't hurt my foot (also some yoga), but how about if I did no exercise at all (sometimes the pain is that extreme) and followed a low calorie diet? Could I actually lose fat? I have gained 5 pounds since 4 months ago when this foot issue began:(

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - June 17, 2010 11:17 AM

This is a very good point - the diets in this study were based on the American Heart Association Step 1 diet, which is only a slight improvement on the SAD. (
A nutritarian diet by definition restricts calories and even without exercise would be expected to produce benefits to LDL cholesterol and insulin sensitivity (unlike the diet used in this study). Similar to this study though, exercise would presumably still provide additional benefits.

StephenMarkTurner - June 17, 2010 7:18 PM

Annie, you are most definitely on the right track with 'Eat For Health'. I constantly read and reread sections of it.

I remember at least one article here in the archives about someone curing their gout via nutritarian eating.

Also, Yoga will give you lots of ideas for one leg and no leg exercises that you can do. Good luck!


PS Deana, I will spell your name properly from now on ;-).

Sabrina - June 18, 2010 12:32 PM


I don't know much about gout or the pain associated with it, but would swimming be an option for you? I know it is often a low impact workout that is a solution for people with joint issues, etc. Just thought I'd throw that out there. Good luck, and I hope you can find some relief.

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