Does Fitness Matter More than Weight?

5SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/16/2012 6:00 PM   :  76 comments   :  15,896 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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Comments

  • 76
    I want to be around average weight and fit. I find it easier to exercise the nearer I get to normal weight. I wonder if some people are thin because they are unhealthy rather than unhealthy because they are thin, for example some dialysis patients may get thin because their health is failing, not the other way round. I've seen a Japanese study which shows that people who maintain an average weight all their lives live healthier lives than those who yo-yo. - 6/19/2014   3:57:30 AM
  • MSCASHOR
    75
    I rather be fat and fit. Although I whether be at a good weight...at least not considered obese. But I always knew I was healthier than most thin people. I have more muscle, strength, and stamina whenever I played competitive. So many people would be in awww and shocked that I could move do quickly and be do physically active because of the weight I carried. It was do annoying that people are misguided about what is considered fit. I was 230lbs and was still getting my grind on, playing harder than most without any health issues. I have since dropped down to 199 lbs and I plan to continue to lose the weight until I reach my goal of 150 lbs. - 5/30/2014   7:51:36 AM
  • 74
    I would rather be fit but it's so hard to differentiate the two - 12/31/2012   10:58:48 AM
  • 73
    I had given up on ever doing ST on a regular basis, and have been losing and gaining the same 40lbs. After returning from a 35 year reunion of my college swim team I promptly signed up with a personal trainer. We work together on T & Thur and I have to motivate myself to get to the gym and work out on Sat. Yesterday was the end of my second week, and while I am most definitely sore, I feel better.

    I know fit & fat is better than unfit & thin. But i still plan to get to healthier "fat" weight.

    In jr high my best swim buddy & I looked like twins, but I was 15+ lbs more than her, but you couldn't tell by looking at us in our swimsuits! I know you can be "fat" and healthy. - 11/4/2012   4:29:43 AM
  • 72
    JUSTYNA7

    I really like that one. When I was trying to learn to swim about ten years ago (I was a late swimmer because of an incident involving an uncle throwing me in a murky river at the age of four and thus terrifying me of water for the next fourteen years of my life) I had trouble believe I COULD float. I know I can float now but I certainly have to tread water to stay upright where my feet don't touch bottom! - 11/2/2012   3:40:12 PM
  • 71
    Absolutely fit and overweight. Weight is such a relative number. In my family we are big but many of my family have flat abs and very little body fat... yet according to BMI's they are all very overweight. The test in my opinion is throw them in the pool. Tell them to take a big breath. If they float staying upright in the deep end and are above their nose then they are overweight. If their nose is below the water or if they are stuggling to stay up... then it is not fat! - 11/2/2012   2:08:33 PM
  • 70
    Fit and overweight. Because I've been there and it's pretty awesome. My natural weight (the weight I fall at when eating intuitively and exercising) is technically overweight.. When I fall below that weight I actually start to look unwell. It's all in bone structure and how you carry your weight. My DOCTOR said nothing about my weight when I was at that point, just congratulated me on being very healthy.

    Bottom line: Not all of us are meant to be thin, anyone can be fit. - 11/1/2012   9:20:05 PM
  • DCMSFARM1
    69
    I would rather be fit. - 10/26/2012   1:06:51 PM
  • 68
    Fat & fit - 10/25/2012   10:30:44 PM
  • 67
    I try to tell my friends who want to be "thin" that they should instead be "well." We want to be strong and agile and fast to live a full life. Thin seems to be about deprivation in that context and I think that being well is about having more: more energy, more vitality, more fun! - 10/23/2012   8:35:19 PM
  • 66
    Fit. I'd rather be fit then be injured because my muscles are weak. I'd rather be fit and be able to keep up with my nephews then just look pretty in a picture. I'd rather be fit and be able to hike with my friends without being the slow one than just being able to fit in a dress.

    Fit fit all the way. - 10/22/2012   2:57:17 PM
  • LWDSSPRUCE
    65
    I really appreciate this article. There is so much size bias. Why can't we appreciate people in all shapes and sizes. Why must we judge ourselves and others on a number on the scale. I ride 90 min most days. I have a healthy heart and can keep up with my skinny teenagers any day. I am obese on any scale and have been except for dips in starvation since I was 4. I'd like to say its enough to be fit because I will never be thin unless I stay stuck in anorexic. Then I may get thin but it will kill me. I'm always fighting the urge to make food the enemy and self hate. Let's not make thin the only measure we judge ourselves and others on. - 10/22/2012   9:30:01 AM
  • 64
    I'll use my favorite NFL quarterback as an example: Aaron Rodgers. According to the NFL website, he is 6'2" and 225 lbs. The BMI calculator puts him at 28.9 which is on the high end of overweight. As in, close to obese. If you haven't seen Aaron Rodgers, go look him up. Does he look overweight? No.

    This is just one example. BMI and weight mean virtually nothing to me. Do I need to lose weight? Yes. But my goal is to be healthy and fit. Losing weight is one of the means of achieving this goal. Not the other way around. - 10/21/2012   7:28:24 PM
  • JMB369
    63
    I am intrigued by this research, and suspect I might be living proof of the hereditary theory. I have been moderately overweight my entire life, although only obese for a a very short period of time. All my life I have had BP of 115/65, pulse 50-60, normal blood sugar, below normal cholesterol, etc. I am a healthy, active, 72-year-old. I was briefly within my healthy weight range (128-155), but currently weigh 173. I have never smoked, I eat mostly organic foods, I take prescription medications only when it's a matter of life or death. I have done yoga for about 20 years and practiced relaxation techniques I learned in college! I am not obsessed, but I am conscious of the choices I make.. Most people who first meet me think I am 15 years younger than I am. BTW, my father put cream in his coffee, slathered butter on his morning toast, and ate lots of meat, but had normal cholesterol. He died of lung cancer at 74, after smoking for 62 years.

    Bottom line for me: fit is more important than being thin, but I don't plan on letting overweight become obese. And my fitness program involves cardio, strenth AND flexibility. - 10/21/2012   8:05:00 AM
  • SUNSET09
    62
    I'd rather be thin and unfit and it would be easier to get fit than lose the weight. The option I'd like is to be fit and thin and I'm working on that! Yeah! - 10/21/2012   5:40:24 AM
  • 61
    I don't believe this; but I know I'm fine.
    - 10/20/2012   4:55:34 PM
  • 60
    I believe it. I currently weigh 301lbs; with my all time high weight 380lbs. I've been overweight/obese my entire life (I'm 31). But right now today, I am fitter than I have ever been. My blood pressure averages 116/68, my cholesterol is fantastic - all in range and ratios are great. I've never had blood sugar issues. I workout 6 days/week, average 1200 minutes/month. My endurance is increasing. My muscles are tight and firm. I have new found strength and balance that I've never known - ever. At 6ft tall, the BMI chart wants me to weigh 160-180lbs. I don't believe that to be a healthy weight range at all for me - I would be thin and unfit because there wouldn't be room for muscle mass. I intend to settle in the 200-220lb range (I haven't seen those numbers since 6th grade).
    I believe that my "fitness" and "health" indicators will only improve from here.

    I guess that just goes to show that you should NEVER assume that because someone is a larger size that they are automatically unhealthy. And you should NEVER assume that the BMI chart is accurate. - 10/20/2012   12:24:48 PM
  • 59
    That's the choice? I'll take normal BMI and fit, thanks. I don't need another excuse to put extra pressure on my knees. - 10/20/2012   8:17:10 AM
  • 58
    I think there should be a negotiation between overweight BMI and waistline girth levels. Seeming to overemphasize cardiovascular fitness, my self-sequenced routine has pilates and yoga in it. The pilates element is more for cardio-like muscle endurance than it is for strength training, btw. I used to have time for/be able to take long walks and to swim laps.

    My weight had plummeted near to my weight loss goal.

    I have decided to raise my weight goal to something sustainable. I'm postmenopausal, and with multiple invisible mild disabilities. Be it known that with foot problems and a bad knee, I never did walk fast.

    In the interim, left to little or barely effective cardio access, I'd put on quite a bit of muscle on my legs, arms and in my core ... barely had gone up a size.

    Why couldn't this discussion be about cardio fitness?

    I am frustrated; this whole process seems Sisyphean to me. I am a very hard maintainer of muscle mass. I gain muscle mass quickly and lose it just as quickly, when I don't keep at my routine. Pilates mat class is more ideal for me than one would think at first glance. So, I opened my wallet and signed up for several class series.

    And, I will continue to press on . - 10/19/2012   11:41:15 AM
  • 57
    According to the BMI, I am still overweight by a few pounds, but I noticed during this journey that as my health improved, I was in better physical shape than many of my thinner friends. I am still overweight (by like 5 pounds) and I can go for a 17 mile run or hike a small mountain and not be sore the next day. My blood pressure and cholesterol are at optimal levels. I do believe there a lot of people that are "skinny fat"... bad health, but thin. With that said, carrying excessive extra weight is really hard on one's body, but weight doesn't tell the whole story. I think lifestyle is more important than weight. - 10/18/2012   2:25:53 PM
  • 56
    For me, definitely fit and thin. - 10/18/2012   2:09:56 PM
  • 55
    I'm 65 overweight and in fairly good shape. Blood pressure averages 118/69 pulse rate of 60. Cholesterol is at 175. So it is possible to be fit and fat. - 10/18/2012   11:09:06 AM
  • 54
    There are some important takeaways here. First, size isn't always the ultimate indicator, but it's a pretty damn good one. If you're obese, this probably isn't not boding well for long term health. If you're at a healthy weight, you do need to pay attention to body composition. Just because your BMI is in the normal range does not mean that body composition is favorable (i.e. your 40% body fat marathon runner example). People at a healthy weight should be doing less cardio and more strength training. The immediate term consequences of obesity seem to far outweigh any "benefits" stated above, so getting the weight off remains an important goal. Being fit and fat should not give one a pass.

    But ultimately this is not a mutually exclusive state. You don't have to pick one or the other. You should be striving for a reasonably healthy weight, maintain cardiovascular health and constantly look to INCREASE strength to promote lean mass.

    Don't muddy the waters. - 10/18/2012   8:22:41 AM
  • 53
    Need a "Like" button, so I can "Like" 4A's response. - 10/18/2012   8:08:38 AM
  • 52
    I'd rather be a healthy size AND fit, thanks.

    :-)

    (and to me a healthy size is a BMI between 18 and 30 - neither underweight nor obese) - 10/18/2012   7:59:51 AM
  • 51
    I am glad to see in the comments a lot of rejecting the premise of the question toward the end. The article itself was interesting with some introspection, but the question at the end was inane. - 10/17/2012   11:57:58 PM
  • 50
    I'd rather be thin and fit... - 10/17/2012   10:30:46 PM
  • HISPEQUE
    49
    All the new and old theories about health, weight, obesity are confusing to the common man. What is important is to know what your body needs. This is well understood by studying animal behavior living in forests. After all humans are animal. What has really changed human from an animal is humans have evolved in today's advanced human being is it has forgotten what it was and created all the health problems. Now it is for scientists to study and understand looking at humans life through this point of view and come out with realistic solutions to all health problems. - 10/17/2012   9:47:35 PM
  • 48
    Hard question but if I had to answer I would rather be fit.. and If the charts concider me "Fat" then so be it.. I do not think any one is "chart" perfect..
    my BMI is high at my weight of 237 I am 100 lbs lighter then I was 3 years ago. I feel better, I am more active am I fit and trim? not trim but I think I am fit more then I was 3 years ago. and I plan on keeping up with my life style.. now when I reach my goal of 180 which is not "chart" number will I still be fit.. sure I will more then I am today.... not sure if that makes sence but what I am trying to say as long as I keep up with a healthy life style of eating right, working out, strenth traning, getting lots of sleep, and having a mental good health I am doing something right - 10/17/2012   6:37:22 PM
  • 47
    Neither. I am underweight. I'd rather be normal weigh with good quality muscle tone, and an active lifestyle. I think that, along with eating healthy, is the ky. HOWEVER!!! I am kind of suprised that you referred to th woman who was 40% bodyfat as looking "the picture of health" because there is SUCH a drastic difference in the appearance of skinnyfat people and fit, muscular people... I feel like that was misleading a bit. :) Just my opinions, love to all! - 10/17/2012   5:30:41 PM
  • 46
    Did the studies compare whether the individuals were fit or not? Because why would the unfit AND overweight people still fare better than those not overweight? I think it needs more study. However, these people ALREADY had chronic diseases. Research has shown that obesity leads to many chronic diseases, but I'm guessing that inactivity has similar links, whether you're overweight or not. So, conclusion is, if you're going to be inactive, might as well be overweight? Ugh, I don't like that. I think you're better off being active and losing weight as a result. And if you don't lose weight despite being active and having a healthy diet? Well you're probably still better off than anybody who doesn't work out at all, no matter how thin they are. - 10/17/2012   5:21:46 PM
  • 45
    I'd rather be fit and filled with vitality and in the upper range of a normal weight. The article brings up a key point in that the medical community makes snap decisions based upon size regarding the health of the patient without even inquiring or considering the fitness of that individual. Then they follow the standard protocol based upon size. We need to be the voice of truth into that situation. Thank you for providing the data to have a frank conversation with our medical providers. - 10/17/2012   4:52:04 PM
  • 44
    I am a little on both sides. On one hand I don't think its possbile to be under 6'6" and weigh 300 or more pounds and be very healthy.

    On the other hand I don't think that the bmi is the definite rule of healthy weight. I have a son, who is SKINNY but he's taller so he's high on the hieght and weight. I have another daughter who looks chubby but is really muscular and shes borderline overweight.

    I have friends who have competed in body building competitions who had 4% body fat but was overweight on the bmi.

    I would like a lower weight and fit healthy. Ihave lost 20 pounds and my back and joints feel better. i would like to lose more but my body doesn't want to lol. so I'm taking it easy for now.

    And even when I was "skinny" was technically 15 pounds overweight. oh joy. oh joy. let alone now. I can not be healthy at the drs. idea of "healthy weight". and thats just that. but i can lower my weight and increase the fitness. - 10/17/2012   4:25:19 PM
  • ACCOMPLISHED125
    43
    I believe fitness does matter more than weight. When I think of fitness, I think of being healthy. Therefore, being healthy is far more benefical in the long run than looking at the scale. - 10/17/2012   3:27:21 PM
  • 42
    This article reminds me of an incident a few years ago. I had taken my daughter and a friend of hers to the beach. The friend was very thin but never exercised, and was struggling to keep up with my slightly overweight daughter who was swimming a few times a week. Clearly my daughter was the more fit of the two.

    The sad part is that this friend lives across the street from us, and I see she is not encouraged to be active at all. We live a whole 1.5 blocks from the girls' school, and they *drive* her every morning. - 10/17/2012   3:18:35 PM
  • 41
    Fit. Part of size is fashion. Part is health. Either way, there's more range than our stats let us find acceptable. I want to be healthy from the inside out, and I can judge most of that as well as/better than anyone with charts and tables. - 10/17/2012   1:07:33 PM
  • 40
    This is a misconception that being "thin" means a person is fit. As noted, that is not always the case. While doctors would prefer that their patients be at a healthy weight for their height, there are people who do some pretty unhealthy things to be thin. Look at how many models smoke to suppress their appetites. I'm a little surprized that there hasn't been a study to show the effects yo yo dieting has on our bodies. I'll bet yo yo dieting contributes to shortening a person's life span just like smoking or being sedentary.

    Longevity really does vary from person to person. Remember Jim Fixx ? He was the father of the running movement in the United States. Ran regularly. Was the picture of perfect health. Should have lived to be 100. Died of a heart attack at 50.

    I've said this before,"there really is more to good health than a number that stares at us from between our toes in the morning".

    - 10/17/2012   12:43:06 PM
  • NKOUAMI26
    39
    I definitely agree that size is does not offer the whole picture; but care should be taken that it is not used as an excuse to neglect our bodies. It is our responsible to make sure that we live lives that are healthy and would protect us from all these diseases - 10/17/2012   12:06:15 PM
  • 38
    I for one think they both matter. I am very healthy because all of my tests say so and I feel great but according to my BMI I am still overweight. I am trying to lose the last 10 pounds and according to my BMI I would still be classified as overweight. I know I will never get down to what the charts say and that is ok with me. For whatever reason I feel the need to lose this last 10 lbs. - 10/17/2012   10:02:30 AM
  • 37
    Thanks for the reminder to think about my fitness level and ability to do activities of daily living, not simply trying to reach a number on the scale. This is encouraging. - 10/17/2012   9:37:05 AM
  • 36
    I'm 5 feet tall and currently 58. I weighed 125 for 20 yrs until I moved to a place where I didnt know anybody. I gained 40 lbs due to emotional eating. It wasn't until I was forced to face my weight gain and find a gym and a trainer that I learned that I wasn't eating healthy and needed to change what I ate and that I was at an age that I needed strength training to build muscle mass and cut fat. I'm back to 122-125 lbs and much prefer this. My BP is 110/70. My cholesterol is 190. I don't have any health issues. When I was overweight, my cholesterol was 250, I couldn't get my pants over my fat hips, much less fit into a chair. I couldn't go up and down stairs without puffing. My joints ached. I never exercised before because I was thin but never realizing that I was unfit. Like I said. I'm more fit and eating healthy maintaining my weight at 122-125 lbs with a figure I'm happy with. However, I'm told that's not good enough! I'm told I should weigh 118 lbs for my height! I don't think so. That, to me, is TOO thin. - 10/17/2012   9:25:27 AM
  • 35
    I don't Believe this research at all whatsoever.Both Fitness and weight do matter i think. If your obese You just don't look healthy, and chances are you probobly aren't . Fitness and weight should matter to people but unfortunatley
    Some people don't want any part of Fitness, weightloss, Coupled with good nutrition. and indulgences ONCE IN A WHILE IN MODERATION to make themselves healthier Because it really is about portion control. - 10/17/2012   9:16:25 AM
  • 34
    Clark, obviously everyone's goal should be fitness and a BMI under 25. This is just stressing the importance of fitness. - 10/17/2012   9:10:07 AM
  • 33
    being fit and healthy weight. why does it have to be one or the other? even if you are fit, doesn't the extra weight put extra stress on your joints? being overweight has become the new normal in america. how did so many americans become overweight? - 10/17/2012   9:07:15 AM
  • 32
    I am overweight and fit and healthy, with no intention to be "thin". I am mid forties and the only medication I take is sinus spray for seasonal allergies. My goal when I started Sparkpeople was to lose weight only. I've learned alot since then, and being healthy and fit is much more important. And in getting fit, I was surprised how much my body has changed, and my figure has returned. I am also toned, which I really like. I really wouldn't trade me for thin. - 10/17/2012   8:51:47 AM
  • 31
    I want to be fit and I know that the thin will follow, even if it takes a couple of years. Being in my mid fifties it is easier to get in shape than it is to lose weight. - 10/17/2012   8:18:45 AM
  • 30
    My administrative assistant and I were talking yesterday at work, and she was recently getting over a couple of really bad colds, leading to an enlarged spleen, and she had some kidney stones. A friend of hers had given her a lecture about eating healthy, and to just try it for one week... she is 3 days in, and the cold is gone. She never had to pay attention to what she was eating, because she was always thin - she'd eat pop tarts and other Frankenfood. She doesn't really exercise either. Unfortunately, I eat healthy, and I exercise, and don't lose weight... so there ya go! - 10/17/2012   8:14:16 AM
  • PRUSSIANETTE
    29
    I am overweight, but all my "numbers" (sugar, cholesterol, etc.) have been great--but I exercise daily. My heart ekg, ultrasound, and stress tests have all been great as well.

    I have strength trained regularly for over 20 years. I will never be "thin" even if I lose weight because of all the muscle mass I built. Nor do I care to be. I think thin looks unhealthy. I think most marathon runners look emaciated to me. Never a look I would want to emulate. - 10/17/2012   8:10:25 AM
  • 28
    According to online BMI calculators, I'm in the middle of the "overweight" category, yet I still completed an Ironman last year at this weight. So yes, it's definitely possible to be "fit" and "fat" at the same time. These studies are interesting, but they're comparing people with serious illness/diseases. Who knows if the overweight/obese individuals would develop the same illness if they were at a healthier weight? And let's not forget about QUALITY of life. Just because they can live longer with their diseases, that's hardly all that matters. So of course, as others have mentioned, let's just all work toward fit AND a healthy weight. :-) - 10/17/2012   7:16:38 AM
  • 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

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