Fitness versus Fatness
The issue of fitness versus fatness and the effect that each
has on health and longevity has been debated for decades. Many
people think that as long as you're fit, it doesn't matter if
you're carrying around excess fat. Still others think that if
you're naturally thin, you don't need to exercise. But is this
A study published last year in the American Journal of
Epidemiology (Am J Epidemiol 2002; 156:832-841) addressed this
very issue and provided some unique insight. The authors of the
study concluded that both fitness and fatness are risk factors
for mortality, and that being fit does not completely reverse
the increased risk associated with excess body fat.
In other words, regular exercise does not cancel out all the
health risks of being overweight. Exercise certainly reduces
the health risks, but does not appear to eliminate them
completely. It's the normal-weight people who are in shape who
can expect to live the longest, healthiest lives.
Not long after the study was published, Reuters Health
interviewed the author of the study, Dr. June Stevens, a
professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the University of
North Carolina. In the interview, published in the Nov 4th
issue of Reuters Health, Dr. Stevens summarized her findings by
stating, "It is important not to be overweight, but it also
important to be fit. Just being slender is not enough. Just
being fit is not enough. In order to enjoy the best life
expectancy, you need to be both."
The new findings are based on data from 2,506 women and
2,860 men in eight U.S. cities who participated in a study that
began in 1972, when their average age was about 45. The
subjects were grouped into the following categories: fit, not
fit, fat and not fat. They were followed until 1998.
In both women and men, the unfit-fat group faced the
greatest risk of death. But while exercise helped boost
longevity in the overweight group, it did not erase all the
negative effects of the excess weight. Likewise, people who
were thin but unfit also faced a shortened life span.
The findings of this study emphasize the importance of both
maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise. But
for people who exercise regularly yet still can't seem to shed
those extra pounds, don't give up. Dr. Steven's says, "Keep
exercising, and if you can't lose weight, work hard not to gain