Health experts have increasingly embraced the idea that people can absolutely be “fit and fat” – and that the body mass index is deeply flawed and does not paint a very good picture of how healthy people are. one person.
A recent scientific review reinforces these points. The research, published in the journal iScience, has shown that overall well-being and longevity cannot be predicted by a number on a scale, and that exercise is more important than weight loss when it comes to weight loss. heart health and a long life.
“We would like people to know that fat can be good and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” said researcher Glenn Gaesser, College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. , in a press release.
How To Focus Too Much On Weight Loss Misses The Basics
The team behind the new journal focused their research on one glaring problem: Obesity has increased dramatically in the United States and around the world over the past few decades, as has the number of people who have died from diseases like heart disease which is often closely related to diet. and exercise.
At the same time, the prevalence of people trying to lose weight has also increased. Since the 1980s, at least 40% of women in this country and 25% of men have been dieting for weight loss. Everything we do collectively right now isn’t working, and it doesn’t necessarily make people healthier.
“The emphasis on weight loss has not prevented excessive weight gain over the past few decades,” the new review says. “Additionally, repeated weight loss efforts can contribute to weight gain and is undoubtedly associated with the high prevalence of weight cycling, which is associated with significant health risks.”
Researchers analyzed hundreds of studies on how weight loss, exercise, and longevity fit together, focusing specifically on research that looked at the health outcomes of people considered overweight or obese. . (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a BMI of 25 to 30 to be overweight; anything over 30 is obese or severely obese.)
Ultimately, the evidence shows that being active trumps weight loss when it comes to improving heart health and reducing the overall risk of death, the researchers concluded.
In fact, people who are considered obese may have a lower risk of premature death than those who are normal weight but not fit, according to the study.
The power of physical activity
In medical jargon, the concept of being “fit and fat” is often referred to as metabolically healthy obesity, or MHO. So you can be overweight based on your BMI, but not have any risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
Previous studies have suggested that people who are overweight are no more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who are not. But people who have low levels of activity are, although not all research on the subject has come to the same conclusion.
Increasing activity doesn’t necessarily mean going for long runs or lifting weights. The CDC recommends that adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as at least two days per week of muscle-building activity. For example, brisk walking or pushing a lawn mower is considered aerobic exercise. And gardening or yoga absolutely count as strengthening exercises, according to the CDC.
“It’s also important to note that different body types respond to specific types of exercise differently,” Hemalee Patel, doctor at concierge provider OneMedical, told HuffPost. “So one person may respond better to HIIT workouts based on their own cardiovascular respiratory function, while another body may respond better to cycling or running. So, yes, someone considered “overweight” can be in good shape.
Shifting the attention of the numbers on the scale towards consuming heart-healthy foods and getting enough physical activity could go a long way in minimizing weight-related stigma, which is pervasive and can have a huge impact on people’s mental health. . And mental health, of course, is just as important to general well-being as physical health.
Ultimately, all of this leads to a broader understanding that there are many factors that go into a long, healthy life – and it’s not just rhetoric. It’s evidence-based. There is now scientific research which clearly indicates that it is wrong to shame a person in the name of their health.
“We’re not necessarily against weight loss,” Gaesser said. “We just think that shouldn’t be the primary yardstick for judging the success of a lifestyle intervention program.”