Good Food, Exercise Or Sleep?

Which is the most important when it comes to good health?

What’s the most important when it comes to losing weight?

They’re all important, of course. But which is the most vital? What’s the health priority?

First, we won’t put air or oxygen on the consideration list. That gas is simply the most important health input overall. The effects of going without oxygen are felt immediately. Further, bad air, like air contaminated with asbestos or some other pollutant, can kill you prematurely. Modern history is full of examples—and lawsuits! 

Plus, the effects of high-quality oxygen and air, like the kind inhaled on a partly cloudy morning in the forest or in the desert after a gentle night’s rain, are immediately wonderful. There is no better mood elevator, no better motivator for getting outside.

Yet we often take oxygen for granted. We shouldn’t. Some pay real money for it. It’s wonderful that air quality has improved in the United States and in other places over the last 50 years. That’s a fact that needs to be celebrated.

For its immediate effects, both positive and negative, air ranks number one on the list of health priorities.


We also won’t include water in the debate. 

Some might be tempted to include it as a type of food.

It’s not. 

Accepted definitions of food indicate food is solid. Water is a liquid. Its essence is completely different.

Some substances are mostly water. Included in that group would be things like tea, coffee, and soda.

That’s not to say that things like sweetened iced tea and soda are necessary for life. They do, however, have water. 

Just as there’s junk food, why couldn’t there be junk water?

The body takes out the water in the beverage for its use.

You can go longer without food than you can without water, the substance comprising most of your body. 

It can be modified with substances that help your overall health, like fluoride. Or, when you consider drinks that replace electrolytes, they’re mainly water. Even coffee, tea, and soda are mainly water. If you’re depleted after the flu or an intense workout, water becomes even more important. Not having enough can lead to a systemic breakdown. 

Water, therefore, ranks number two.

After that, however, it becomes a health battle to sort out which one belongs in the subsequent positions.

Working out

Some might say exercise.

Without exercise, he or she can find that they have a hard time sleeping. They get restless. They gain weight. Their hormones stop working correctly. They find their health becomes more fragile.

There’s a psychological and memory boost from working out.

Exercising puts a good kind of stress on the body. If you’ve been regularly able to walk a couple of miles and then, gradually, find yourself unable to do so, the process tips you off to an impending heart attack. 

Exercise, setting a minimum physical standard for yourself, forces you to ask questions. Asking those questions can save your life.

The body isn’t made to be stationary for long periods of time. Everything in the modern environment encourages this. It gradually happened in the name of efficiency but it really isn’t.

Exercise impacts several areas of health; it’s interrelated.

As a concept, it deserves to be on the shortlist.

Good food

By good food, we mean wholesome, organic food.

Non-organically grown food can be good for you too, of course. Water can wash off pesticides. The non-organic food can be full of fiber, vitamins, and all of the other components.

A lot of what makes it good food depends on the preparation.

A whole different matter is the processed foods meant to improve one’s health.

They’re not necessarily good or bad; rather, they’re made to help you reach a goal like building muscle.

You can replace good food with food that’s not so good, food with all kinds of preservatives. Such food will give you energy.

Yet, it’s suboptimal. Like exercise, food impacts several different areas of health from mental acuity to weight and many other areas in between.

Rest and sleep

Sleep is necessary for several different areas of health. Naps can help you recharge too.

It affects your brain, your weight, and the way your body operates.

It has a big impact on many different areas how you learn, your mood, your hormones, and your ability to heal.

The list could go on and on.


It would be a complete cop-out to say that they all were equally important. That’s not going to happen here.

One must be selected to be the least important. This thought experiment can’t result in a tie.

Another one needs to be selected to be the most important, or at least two can tie and be equally important.

The thing to keep in mind is that it might not be the most important for you. Everyone is different. Everyone is exposed to different environments.

This should have a role in deciding the right answer for you.

You may be living in a place with many overcast days, inclement weather, and not be able to get much exposure to the sun. People produce vitamin D naturally when they get exposed to the sun. If you’re not getting any sun exposure, you’re not making any. Food-based sources of vitamin D become all the more important.

You may be living in an environment where your sleep gets interrupted. It could be a health condition, a habit, or your neighbors. When that’s the case, sleep grows to be all-important.

That same process can be applied to any of the topics on this shortlist. The deprivation of any of these is a huge problem.


A couple takes a deep lungful, inhaling clean air.

Every to-do list has priorities. This list is meant to be practical. It could be thought of as a to-do list for optimal health.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey includes an oft-cited decision-making matrix. It divides actions into four areas: important and urgent; important but not urgent; non-important and urgent, and non-important and non-urgent.

When trying to decide whether sleep, good food, or exercise is the most important asking this question of urgency makes sense. They’re all important.

Yet you can go a few days without eating or eating very little. Further, there has never been a time in human history when we’ve had so many sources of energy. Few are starving to death.

Exercise, too, is important for improving the quality of life. Yet you don’t necessarily need to exercise every day to live. It’s just that your life is suboptimal.

Sleep, therefore, comes in number three behind air and water. You’re going to need it every day to avoid problems.

Next comes food. 

Finally, in the last place, comes exercise.

What do you think of this ranking? Let us know in the comments below.

Which is the most important thing for losing weight?

Eating good food is more important than exercise. Both are important, but a bad food choice can take literally hours of exercise to make up for. The nod has to go to making good food selections.

Similarily, sleep is more important than good food and exercise when it comes to losing weight. A night of poor sleep can affect your ability to make decisions as well as your food selections. Food selection is often tied to emotion. Similarly, exercising when you feel tired can feel like torture. 

When the question is what’s the most important thing for losing weight, it’s therefore going to be water. Water can fill you up and flush metabolic byproducts from your system.

Air, of course, is important too. Without air, the whole diet is going to be pointless.

This post includes affiliate links for which we receive a small commission. 

For further reading:

Sometimes one of the heavy hitters will help another. See 4 types of exercise for awesome sleep.

Also on the blog:


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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