Is it possible to be fat and fit? |

Is it possible to be fat and fit?

Can you be overweight and still be healthy? Everyday, there seems to be another headline linking higher rates of morbidity with obesity. With growing rates of chronic disease, escalating medical costs and a broken health care system, the situation seems hopeless for many Americans.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Jude Mathews begs to differ. Mathews, at 5 feet 4 inches tall and wieghing190 pounds, would seem to personify the health crisis and obesity epidemic facing our nation.

“My blood pressure is rock solid. My cholesterol numbers are basically fine. My doctors don’t see anything they say I need to worry about,” said Mathews, who is 55, exercises regularly and eats a balanced diet. “One little number on the scale is not all there is to your health.”

Current research indicates that it may be healthier to be fat and fit, rather than thin and sedentary. The Cooper Institute in Dallas has been one of the leading proponents of the fat-and-fit hypothesis. Researchers from the center have published numerous papers suggesting that cardiovascular fitness is actually a better predictor than body weight of heart disease and cardiac-related death.

Tim Church, MD, MPH, PhD, vice president of research at the Cooper Institute says that obese men who exercise regularly have death rates only slightly higher than unfit men of normal weight.

In the January 2004 issue of Diabetes Care, Church and colleagues reported on a study involving the calculation of all-cause death rates among 2,196 men with diabetes. When the rates were analyzed across various degrees of fitness and body weight, researchers found an inverse relationship between fitness and mortality, independent of body weight.

“We showed that overweight or obese individuals with diabetes who are physically fit are at lower risk of dying than those who are normal weight but unfit,” says Church. “Fitness is a much better predictor of mortality than fatness.”

That being said, nobody argues that obesity is meaningless. “Clearly, there’s a level of fatness where no amount of fitness will compensate,” says Church.

These studies suggest that physical activity will offset some of the effects of excess weight and improve your health. So in addition to any weight-loss goals you may have set for yourself, it’s very important to exercise regularly.

Physical activity can slow down the inflammatory process that wreaks havoc in your body and to help regulate insulin and blood sugar at healthy levels. Exercise can significantly blunt obesity’s ill effects even if it doesn’t lead to the amount of weight loss one desires.

Being overweight increases the risk of many debilitating and often deadly diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, cancer and diabetes. However, many experts today feel that we as a society are too focused on losing weight and should be more focused on regular exercise.

If you are overweight, then start with gentle exercise and make moderate improvements to your diet while avoiding yo-yo dieting. Over the course of the next 6 to 8 months, the pounds will start to drift away. A long-term approach is usually the best way to make a permanent lifestyle change.

Mike Carville is a NASM/RKC-certified personal trainer and co-owner of South Yuba Club in Nevada City ( and Monster Gym in Grass Valley ( Contact him at

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