For decades, doctors have debated whether people can be overweight and still be healthy.
If you get plenty of exercise but are still heavy, does that mean you’re in bad shape?
A new study attempted to find an answer. York University researchers gathered 853 adults who had weight issues. All were attending weight management clinics in Ontario, Canada.1
The scientists tested both the subjects’ fitness and “fatness.”
First, the researchers divided the patients into three “fatness” groups based on their body mass index (BMI). A BMI of 34.9 was considered mild obesity. Moderate was 35-39. Severe was 40 or greater.
By comparison, the standard numbers for a healthy BMI are typically considered to be between 18.5 and 25.2
The researchers then did detailed exams to determine the subjects’ metabolic health. They tested their blood pressure, triglycerides, glucose levels, and checked for diabetes.
Then they gave each participant a maximal treadmill stress test. This is a standard test to assess heart health and fitness levels. It checks how hard the heart has to work during exertion.
Researchers discovered that many heavy people—especially those in the mildly obese group—were fit and healthy. They found that:
- 41% of participants with mild obesity had high fitness levels
- 25% with moderate obesity had high fitness levels
- 11% of the severe obesity group had high fitness levels
Almost all the subjects with high fitness levels were healthy in other ways as well. They showed no signs of heart disease or diabetes.
Being Heavy Does Not Doom You to Bad Health
The take home message from the study?
Good health is more dependent on how active you are than how heavy you are.
Dr. Jennifer Kuk is an associate professor at York University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science. She led the study.
“You really have to disconnect the body weight from the importance of fitness,” she said. “You can get fit without losing weight and have health benefits.
“Obesity is only related with worse health in individuals who were unfit.”3
Heart disease and diabetes are typically associated with weight problems. But Dr. Kuk said the study shows that heavy people who exercise can avoid these diseases, even if they don’t lose weight.
The Best Way to Get Fit
What’s the best way to maintain fitness? We recommend high intensity interval training (HIIT). It has the advantage of taking very little time. And research shows it’s better for your heart and overall health than long hours of cardio.4
You do intense, short bursts of physical activity in between periods of recovery.
Here’s how to do it…
Choose the aerobic activity of your choice. It can be running (on a treadmill or not), biking, swimming, using an elliptical exerciser, stair climber, rowing machine…anything that gets your heart pumping.
Warm up for 3 to 5 minutes, doing the activity slowly.
Then go as hard you as can for 30 to 60 seconds before slowing for one or two minutes to recover.
Alternate hard bursts with recovery intervals, repeating the cycle five to seven times. End with a two-minute cool down.
A HIIT session can be as short as 15 minutes, making it a great workout for people pressed for time.5
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