FEB 23, 2018 06:20 AM PST

Can You Be Fit and Still Obese?

Fat but fit is a concept that is increasingly part of research into obesity. Fitness and a healthy diet is the best way to reduce your risk of health complications like heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. But can a person be fit and overweight at the same time?

Are patients who are severely obese just doomed, or can a little exercise, without dramatic weight loss, still improve their health. That was the focus of recent research from York University. The researchers there wanted to find out if exercise can cancel out the risk of being overweight, or at least reduce a patient's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Two professors at York, Jennifer Kuk, associate professor at York University's School of Kinesiology and Health Science, and Dr. Sean Wharton, MD, medical director of the Wharton Medical Clinic and adjunct professor at York University set out to look at fitness and obesity. They worked with patients who fell into the category of severely obese, but yet had fitness levels and similar overall health to patients who weight much less. In many cases, those who are overweight think that exercising is a waste of time, but it may not be, even for those with a BMI of 40 or more.

Professor Kuk explained, "Obesity is only related to worse health in individuals who were unfit. We know that once you get beyond a BMI of 40, the risk of cardiovascular conditions increases exponentially so this study shows that having a high fitness level is still beneficial and it really reinforces the importance of fitness. You really have to disconnect the body weight from the importance of fitness. You can get fit without losing weight and have health benefits."

So what constitutes "fit" is the real question. Kuk says doing 150 minutes of exercise per week, which is what most guidelines recommend, along with a low-calorie diet is only going to result in a weight loss of about ½ pound per week, but according to the data from the study, it can still be a positive thing for those who are moderate to severely obese.

Data for the study came from close to 900 Canadian patients attending Wharton Medical weight management clinics in Southern Ontario. Individuals completed a clinical exam including measuring fasting blood sugar and undergoing a treadmill stress test. The results showed that fitness levels did not have to be at Olympic levels to provide some health benefits. Only patients in the lowest 20 percent of total fitness were at risk for complications like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other health problems. That means that 80% of patients were fit enough, even though their weight was in the obese range. It's the first study to suggest that fitness, and not poundage, is a factor in risk reduction.

Professor Wharton summarized the work, stating, "In my practice, I see many patients who are looking for different results. There are some patients that want to significantly improve their health and others that are only looking for an aesthetic goal. When it comes to health, this study reinforces the notion that people don't need to lose weight to be healthy." Check out the video below to hear more from Kuk and Wharton on this vital research.

Sources: York University, Journal BMC Obesity, NY Post

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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