Who Wins the Health Game…Diet or Exercise? Both.

American fitness icon Jack LaLanne once said, “Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.” As a cosmetic surgeon with over 25 years experience in health and wellness, I couldn’t agree more. After recovering from surgery, many of my clients seek guidance on how to best maintain their newly enhanced physique. Instead of focusing on either diet or fitness, I encourage them to approach a healthier lifestyle the same way I approach surgery: in a personalized and holistic way. That means a marriage of both diet and exercise.

Exercise is a game changer when it comes to health, and overall well-being. After surgery, it’s important to take time to heal, but once the initial phase of recovery has passed, getting into a fitness routine speeds up the process. While eating the right foods is crucial when it comes to overall fitness, exercise helps people use nutrients in the most effective way: strength training taps protein to build muscle; aerobic workouts burn sugar and pump oxygen-rich blood through the cardiovascular system. An active lifestyle also wards off a bevy of diseases and conditions, ranging from heart disease to arthritis. Regular exercise even lowers the chances of cancers including breast and colon cancer.

Exercise isn’t just a physical health hack, it’s the ultimate mental one. As Harvard Health purports, exercise reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that are natural painkillers and mood elevators. The discipline of regular exercise inevitably carries over to other life goals: when you look your best and you’re feeling your healthiest, everything else seems easier and other goals feel more attainable. Luckily, you don’t need to overhaul your entire schedule to incorporate exercise into your life. Opportunities to be more active are everywhere: opt out of the elevator and take the stairs. Put your back into household chores. Spend some time doing yard work or wash your car by hand instead of taking it to a car wash. Slowly add more and more physical activities into your week, and soon enough, you’ll have a personalized fitness routine that complements the demands of your work week and doesn’t interfere with your other commitments. As a surgeon, my time is limited, but I fit in a fun mix of spinning classes, high impact yoga, weekend walks and garden work to stay fit and feel energized. This gives me more verve and efficacy in other realms of my life.

While exercise is truly king, a king would not be anywhere without his queen. Without the right diet, exercise isn’t effective. To be truly healthy, one must eat right. A clean, fresh diet will nourish your body, keep it strong and give you more energy: the right food will stave off cravings, and improve physical stamina. To me, eating right means eating fresh, nutrient-rich foods and in moderate portions. While at first, one might feel limited or “on a diet,” by exploring healthier options, you may discover you have more choices, especially if you’re willing to experiment. It’s also rewarding to discover that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing taste. With a wide mix of complex carbohydrates, lean protein sources, healthy fats, and a wide variety of fruits and veggies, there’s a lot to choose from, as well as all kinds of seasoning and spices to enhance flavor. With so much variety, there’s no need to rely on simple carbs, sweets or processed foods to satisfy hunger. For me personally, when it comes to flavor, there’s nothing better than fresh herbs. I have my own herb garden, and love the vibrant, fresh flavor that herbs bring to any dish. To add spice to chicken, I grill it with thyme and a fresh sprig of rosemary. A little chive, basil or green onion will bring surprising zest to a baked potato. I like picking herbs that pair with my palate, and discovering new combinations. By choosing the right foods, and developing your palate, you can curate a personalized diet that serves your needs and gives you abundant energy to exercise.

Overall, my philosophy when it comes to health is similar to my practice philosophy in surgery: it’s best to take a holistic, personalized approach. As a cosmetic surgeon, I understand how much appearance can influence confidence and mental health, and want my patients to look and feel their absolute best. By pairing physical fitness with a healthy diet, clients can optimize the outcome of surgery and maintain their desired appearance. Ultimately, a balanced blend of both healthy nutritious foods and regular exercise will always win the health and fitness game.