Committing to a healthy diet on top of finding time to exercise (or knowing where to start) can seem daunting. Thankfully, new research shows being physically active in your free time will naturally increase your fruit and vegetable consumption.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found people who are more physically active in their free time are more likely to make healthier food choices. Participants were analyzed from childhood (9 to 18) through adulthood (33 to 48).

Your habits can change over time.

Participants who were physically active as children but who became more sedentary as adults simultaneously decreased fruit and veggie intake. According to an article published by the research University, their “decreasing…physical activity may be an indicator for an additional health risk.” 

On the flip side, people who did not use their free time to be active as children, but became active in midlife, seemed to increase their fruit and veggie consumption. The findings were most obvious in female participants but did affect both genders.

Why does this matter?

The information can hopefully motivate people to begin their health journeys by starting small with the understanding that healthy habits will follow. Being restrictive in your eating and spending more than you can afford on exercise classes is not the only way to promote a healthy lifestyle.

If you swap TV time for a brisk walk or go for a swim with friends rather than to happy hour, the inclination to eat healthfully will likely follow.

It is “important to acknowledge that these two health behaviors may facilitate each other,” says Irinja Lounassalo, a doctoral student at the University of Jyväskylä. “This could be a way to promote more holistic well-being.”