The number one thing

I had a friend ask me this question once. He was pushed for time and wanted to focus his energy to get the best return for time invested.

He wanted to know, what is the number one thing I should focus on?

Is it exercise, or nutrition?

The answer is – it depends.

They are both important, but which one you put first depends on what your goal is.


If your goal is weight loss, the number one thing to pay attention to is your NUTRITION. The saying is true: You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.

In fact, too much exercise actually works against you, due to the release of cortisol in your system, which actually prevents weight loss.


If your goal is longevity – which means living long and living well – the number one thing is EXERCISE.

Two aspects of exercise influence longevity the most:

  1. having a very high degree of cardio-respiratory fitness (your VO2 max); and
  2. high muscle mass and strength relative to your sex and age group.

EXERCISE to increase muscle mass and VO2 max gives greater reduction of all cause mortality than anything else.

Research has identified six important predictors of longevity: VO2 max, grip strength, leg strength, balance, muscle mass, and muscular power. These help maintain mobility and balance to avoid falls and enable independent living.  

  • Low grip strength has been linked to a higher risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and disability.
  • High VO2max is associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, (some forms of) cancer and also correlates with a lower risk of early death.

It goes without saying that nutrition is also important as you age – you are not going to get the best results from your exercise with low quality fuel.

But unless you make a special effort with exercise you run the risk of becoming frail and sick as you age, leading to a shorter lower quality life.

If you are interested in ageing well, check out