Does Fitness Matter More than Weight?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/16/2012 6:00 PM   :  77 comments   :  17,606 Views

Which is better:  being fat and fit, or thin and unfit?  The first reaction might assume that carrying excess body fat is more harmful to your health, even if you exercise regularly.  But is that true?  Opinions will differ depending on who you ask, but some of the latest research seems to contradict what we’ve typically been lead to believe.  Size is not always the best indicator of health. 
Newer research has been exploring the “obesity paradox”, a term used to explain how overweight and obese people tend to live longer with chronic illnesses than those who are a normal weight.  For example, “One study found that heavier dialysis patients had a lower chance of dying than those whose were of normal weight or underweight. Overweight patients with coronary disease fared better than those who were thinner in another study; mild to severe obesity posed no additional mortality risks. In 2007, a study of 11,000 Canadians over more than a decade found that those who were overweight had the lowest chance of dying from any cause.”
Scientists have validated these results in a variety of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.  Although research has yet to find a definitive reason, there are theories as to why those who are overweight and obese fare better with these chronic illnesses.  One theory is genetics (the illness presents itself differently in those who are thin versus fat.)  Another theory is that doctors don’t treat thin patients as aggressively because it’s assumed their bodies are able to deal with the disease more effectively.  Or maybe the real problem is that we are assigning blame to size, when really there are other factors causing these diseases.    
Just because someone appears to be normal weight, doesn’t mean they don’t have issues with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.  Size does not tell the whole story.  Recently, I had my body fat tested and heard the story of a woman in her late 50’s who came in for the same test.  This woman had been running 4-6 marathons per year for the past 30 years.  She looked very fit and trim on the outside, but her body fat test revealed that she was 40% fat (which should put her into the obese category.)  The reason:  she never knew that strength training was an important part of any exercise routine, so she had very little muscle.   Although she was the picture of good health on the outside, on the inside there were some very serious health concerns.
Research has shown the protective effects of cardiovascular fitness, and has led some to recommend that choosing between the two, its better maintain fitness than a normal weight.  Of course there are exceptions (those who are severely obese or underweight), but in general, the protective effects of fitness are hard to deny.  I’ve been in fitness classes and running groups with overweight individuals whose fitness level runs circles around mine.   Size is just one piece of the puzzle.
What do you think?  Would you rather be overweight and fit, or thin and unfit?   

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  • 27
    After reading "THE SUGAR FIX" by Richard Johnson M.D., I certainly don't believe that being overweight/obese is healthy, even if you are "fit" from exercise. I'll opt for being "normal weight" and fit. - 10/17/2012   7:02:00 AM
  • 26
    Although the results of this study are interesting, I worry that it may cause some people to think that they should just focus on fitness rather than on developing a good level of fitness along with striving for a healthy weight. Although there may be some validity in the study, most of the research I've encountered (along with my own family medical history) points to the fact that getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is key in warding off many types of preventable disease. That doesn't mean that we have to strive to be thin (there's a pretty big range for what's considered a healthy weight), but I don't think we should simply settle for being obese and fit. The overall risk factors and reduction in quality of life associated with obesity are just too numerous.. - 10/17/2012   6:16:52 AM
  • 25
    This choice was not given, but I think that being a healthy weight and fit is the best. - 10/17/2012   6:13:41 AM
  • 24
    Guess I was aware of this but it still gave me a shock. I'm very resistant to doing strength exercises but this article may just be the motivation I needed to be more assiduous about it. Thanks. - 10/17/2012   5:27:54 AM
    How about "Fit, happy, content, and possibly rich" sound? I don;t need the rich bit, but I do know I can control the others easier than have more means to do what I want. - 10/17/2012   4:42:53 AM
  • 22
    I'll take fit any day. But I hope that through getting fit I'll also reach a healthy weight (not 'thin'...I don't want to be thin. I'd like to be SLIM) - 10/17/2012   4:26:04 AM
  • 21
    Before starting SP and a fitness routine a year ago I would have said skinny and unfit. Now that I am more fit, stronger, much more toned and yes skinnier but not skinny, my vote is for FIT!!! - 10/17/2012   4:14:34 AM
  • 20
    I definitely would aim for fit, no matter my weight.

    I think there's a danger in saying it's okay to be fat as long as we're fit, though, because I do believe there is a tipping point. When it starts becoming difficult to get up and walk due to excess weight, the fitness level is going to begin dropping. Being fit should not become an excuse for why it is okay to carry around excess weight. It should be a goal in its own right, independent of weight. - 10/17/2012   1:57:21 AM
  • 19
    I think I would be okay with being fit and slightly overweight. - 10/17/2012   1:26:17 AM
  • 18
    I'd rather not have a chronic disease. The studies are looking first at a population with a chronic disease, then dividing it into overweight or not, and finding the overweight people do better. - 10/17/2012   12:34:09 AM
  • 17
    Definitely fit. But I don't have my head in the sand about the problems that come with too much weight, especially on the joints. - 10/17/2012   12:26:43 AM
  • 16
    I would rather be thin for any reason. It's easier to find clothes that fit. I might have less pain in my knees also. - 10/17/2012   12:13:22 AM
  • 15
    Like so many have said, I'd choose fit AND thin, but if I can only have one, I'll take fit any time. Now that I'm getting older and losing some of my fitness, finding myself fat AND unfit, I see the imporance to fitness that I never saw before, and I'm most concerned with getting that back, regardless of my size. - 10/17/2012   12:06:18 AM
  • 14
    For me being fit is the most important. The weight loss will follow. - 10/16/2012   11:39:17 PM
  • 13
    i would like to be fit and thin - 10/16/2012   11:18:37 PM
  • 12
    I would rather be fit than too thin. I also like to be at a lower weight, but that is no good if I am not fit enough to enjoy living. - 10/16/2012   10:55:22 PM
  • 11
    i think i'm going to have to say i want to be both fit and at a healthy weight. - 10/16/2012   9:15:05 PM
    I am fit and at a weight I like, want to lose a bit this year & maintain fitness that I have been losing somewhat. For me, there is no real choice, I want to be both fit & at a weight I desire. Both are important to me. - 10/16/2012   8:42:52 PM
  • 9
    I would rather be fit and thin, but I will take what the good Lord gives me as long as I am doing everything I can! I do strength training really hard two times a week, but then I incorporate it into my other fitness routines on some of the other days. You can work several different muscles in one workout. I love kickboxing and I love my Boot camp workout because it is Plyometrics, cardiovascular and strength training all in one! - 10/16/2012   8:20:52 PM
  • 8
    I want to be healthier but I don't have to be thin. I'd rather get to a healthy and comfortable weight that I can maintain rather than be a yo-yo dieter. - 10/16/2012   8:18:08 PM
  • 7
    This is good news for me. I weigh much more than the BMI and SP say I should, but my doctor told me to keep doing whatever it is I am doing. My numbers are good, I feel fine and have a lot of energy, I'm on SP's 10K steps/day team and do it, I ought to lift those weights more and I will, especially when the weather gets bad. - 10/16/2012   8:15:14 PM
  • 6
    I would rather be fit and thin. strength training is so important as I do it 4 times a week. - 10/16/2012   8:08:55 PM
  • 5
    I would like to be both. I always think of thin but unhealthy never enters my mind. I am now going to try and incorporate some strength training with my exercise. I am able to walk 3.5 miles in 60 minutes and try to get further in that hour but now I will get out my strength training videos. - 10/16/2012   8:06:43 PM
  • 4
    I AM thin and unfit! I joined SP to lose about 10 pounds that I recently gained while unemployed. However, I've learned through my fitness tracking that I was extremely out of shape and had absolutely no stamina or strength! I guess I am lucky that I am finding this out in my 20s, while I still have plenty of time to improve my fitness (altho I guess it's never too late to get healthier!). Interesting to think about. - 10/16/2012   7:10:29 PM
  • 3
    Fit any day. BMI is a sham anyway- most people who are classified as overweight today wouldn't have been prior to lowering the threshold around the turn of the millennium.

    I'd still like to be thin, but if I can have only one of the two? Fit, please. - 10/16/2012   7:07:47 PM
  • 2
    I'd rather be 'fit' that anything else. - 10/16/2012   6:53:14 PM
  • 1
    Every time I visit my doctor, fully expecting to be lectured about my weight, I'm asked instead about my activity levels and how much exercise I'm getting. During my most recent visit, when I told her I was losing weight, she said that was fine, but that she'd much rather her patients be overweight and fit than thin and unfit. I hope it's not a choice between those two, though. I intend to become thin AND fit. - 10/16/2012   6:50:21 PM

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