Most weight-watchers know that the best way to shed pounds is to combine a healthy diet with exercise, rather than just rely on one or the other.
However, scientists still know little about the relationship the two factors have with each other.
Now a review from Harvard University has found that starting a fitness regime first could be the key to tackling obesity.
The team, led by Miguel Alonso Alonso, analysed recent literature on weight-loss to see if it supported the idea that there is a neurocognitive link between physical activity and eating habits.
According to Mr Alonso Alonso, they found that: ‘physical exercise seems to encourage a healthy diet.
‘In fact, when exercise is added to a weight-loss diet, treatment of obesity is more successful and the diet is adhered to in the long run.’
The researchers said exercise increases a person’s sensitivity to the physiological signs of fullness, so they are less likely to overeat.
They also found that working out causes changes in the working and structure of the brain.
Mr Alonso Alonso, said: ‘Regular exercise improves outputs in tests that measure the state of the brain’s executive functions and increases the amount of grey matter and prefront connections.’
One of the ‘executive functions’ of the brain is inhibitory control, which helps people to self-regulate their behaviour – such as keeping their hands out of the cookie jar.
The researchers concluded that in time exercise can ‘help us to resist the many temptations that we are faced with everyday in a society where food, especially hypercaloric food, is more and more omnipresent.’
The finding could be key to helping the one in four adults who are obese in the UK.
The paper was published in Obesity Reviews.