Having a sweet tooth is nothing to be ashamed of. But 39% of people in the U.S. are obese, and 10% have diabetes. That means public health efforts to reduce sugar consumption could benefit millions of people.
Eating too much processed sugar isn’t just bad for our teeth. Sugar can cause insulin resistance, lead to a buildup of fat in the liver, increase inflammation, and harm our heart, blood vessels and brain. While researchers haven’t yet found a direct cause, a sugar-rich diet has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
At Halloween, many of us may indulge in the occasional (or more than occasional) treat. The spoils of trick-or-treating will stock our drawers with tasty candy—a temptation that’s often hard to resist, even for those who try to keep their sugar intake to a minimum.
What if there was a way to have your candy and eat it too? Exercise may be the kryptonite to your Halloween indulgence. Scientists have found that exercise improves many aspects of health and protects against metabolic, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. It may also protect against the dangers of a little too much sugar.
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found that people who participated in regular aerobic exercise didn’t experience reduced blood vessel function after drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage. On the other hand, the volunteers who drank the soft drink but did not exercise had reduced blood vessel function at the end of the study.
Another “sweet” study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that mice that engaged in high-intensity interval training while eating a high-sugar diet were protected from high blood pressure, insulin resistance and fatty liver.
Exercise won’t give you unlimited freedom to indulge in your favorite Halloween candy. But developing a regular habit of exercise will not only help you be healthier throughout the year, but it may also help scare off sugar’s metabolic effects when sweet treats are easy to find and hard to resist.
Brady Holmer is a PhD student in exercise physiology at the University of Florida. His lab focuses on cardiovascular physiology, mainly how exercise can play a role in health, disease and aging. Holmer hosts a podcast called “Science & Chill,” where he sits down with scientists in the fields of physiology, biology, health and nutrition to discuss their work. He served as a meeting blogger for the American Physiological Society’s 2021 annual meeting at Experimental Biology.