We all know that being overweight is bad for our health, but is lack of physical fitness worse? The answer might surprise you.
Back in the mid-1990s, when researcher Steven Blair introduced the idea that thinness wasn’t synonymous with fitness, fitness fanatics of all shapes and sizes rejoiced. His landmark study was the first to suggest that fitness trumped fat when it comes to overall health, concluding that a lack of exercise poses a greater risk to health than being overweight. Blair’s results, along with several subsequent studies confirming his findings, sparked the term “metabolically healthy obesity,” which is defined as being overweight (a body mass index above 30) without the associated high blood pressure, abnormal blood sugar and elevated cholesterol levels often associated with carrying excess weight.
Since regular exercise has proven effective in reducing mortality even among the severely obese, it’s clear that being fit can mitigate the health risks associated with being overweight. In fact, it’s worth noting that fit individuals with heart disease had a lower risk of mortality independent of body weight and age, proving once again the importance of exercise for all ages and sizes.
Faced with the reality that exercise alone isn’t always effective when it comes to getting rid of unwanted inches, it’s nice to know that your efforts in the gym won’t be in vain, despite the fact that the numbers on the scale may not change significantly. So, it’s time to stop using the scale to determine success in the gym. Exercise is truly its own reward — at least as far as life expectancy is concerned.
So how much exercise does it take to reap the rewards of being fit? Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise most, if not all, days of the week should do the trick. And it doesn’t have to be done in the gym...a brisk walk, bike ride or swim will get the job done. It does have to be aerobic exercise, however, which means yoga lovers and those who pump iron need to include some form of sustained activity that raises heart rate and oxygen consumption into their workout schedule.
The best news of all is that it’s never too late to get in shape. Men who went from unfit to fit in a study that spanned five years experienced a 44-per-cent drop in all-cause mortality. The opposite occurred in fit individuals who joined the ranks of the unfit. They saw their mortality risk increase as their commitment to regular exercise waned.
The time has come to own the idea that being fit is more important than becoming thin. After all, anyone who’s tried to lose weight and keep it off can tell you success in the gym is easier to achieve than moving the numbers on the scale. Fitness is a goal that’s not just attainable, it’s accessible no matter your shape or size.