Let’s begin our guilt-free, “Whole” Heart Health blog series with the risk factor for heart disease that is responsible for the most worry and guilt: body weight.

Overwhelmingly, when I ask clients why they want to lose weight, the answer is “I want to be healthy.”  We connect being overweight with being unhealthy and thin with being healthy. Ready for a shocker? The research does not support this when it comes to heart heath.

The “obesity paradox” is the term used when research shows people with a higher body weight have a lower risk of heart disease and premature death than those at a recommended body weight. But, as with so many things, the beauty is in the details! When fitness level is included in the data, there is no paradox! In every weight category, people who are fit had a lower risk of a heart event and better survival, even if they already have heart disease!

There is considerable evidence that high levels of cardio fitness eliminates or significantly lowers the risk of cardiac death in people who are overweight and obese, even in those with heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes. Therefore, cardiac fitness is more important than obesity in long term prognosis.*

Here are some more key findings:

  • People who are unfit had double the risk of dying, regardless of body weight.
  • Year to year changes in fitness were better at predicting future risk of developing hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol than changes in body weight.
  • When people remained fit, even when body weight increased, their risk of  heart disease and risk of dying from any cause did not increase.
  • People with heart disease and heart failure but with preserved fitness had good survival regardless of body weight.

If you are looking to lose weight to be healthy, and are exercising regularly, be confident! You ARE healthy already. Let go of the worry, because it only drains health.  Certainly, there are other benefits of getting to your healthy weight. Based on the overwhelming evidence,  we can define a healthy weight as the weight that allows you to stay fit.

Later in this series we will look at how you can tell if you are fit enough to get these benefits.  In the meantime, check out this blog that explains the definition of fitness.

* Source: Exercise and the Cardiovascular System. Lavie, C, et. al.  Circulation Research (American Heart Association Journal) July 2, 2015