Single red barbell sits on domestic scaleOver the past twelve years as a clinical exercise physiologist at a hospital-based weight loss clinic,  I have asked thousands of patients “what makes weight loss so important to you right now?” Overwhelmingly the answer is “my health”! 

I then ask, “What does health mean to you?” They describe being healthy as: less worry about being debilitated or dying at an early age,  being able to live life more fully without being held back by pain or medications or doctors’ visits or illness, being able to travel, play with their kids/grandkids, to dance at a wedding with friends and family.

It has been known for some time that elevated body weight is a health risk. It has also been known for a while that low fitness level is a health risk as well. There has been an ongoing debate over which is more “important” and a better predictor of health and longevity. Weight or fitness level? Which really gives you more health and longevity for your efforts?

Over the past few years, there have been large scale studies and analysis of large scale studies to answer this question. And the answer (drum roll, please…):

“After completing the meta-analysis on the joint association between Cardio-respiratory fitness and Body Mass Index (BMI) on mortality (death) from all causes, the results indicate that the risk of death was dependent upon cardio-respiratory fitness level and not BMI. Therefore, fit individuals who are overweight or obese are not automatically at a higher risk for all-cause mortality” (Fitness vs. Fatness on All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-analysis)

Translation: Being fit provides protection from dying from any cause at all weight levels.

Plus, fitness has been shown to reduce the risk of, improve outcomes for, and reduce the re-occurrence of the most common medical concerns such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Bottom line: if you are seeking health and longevity, whatever your weight, keep moving!

Certainly being at a healthy weight has many important health benefits. But are we so focused on weight in health care and in society that we are missing out? 

When we say “I was doing so well with exercise, but not losing weight, so I stopped exercising,” we are missing out.  When we celebrate losing weight through dieting only, we are missing out.  (About 30% of that weight loss is muscle! Muscle  = the ability to do things. The ability to do things = health).  When we exercise just for the purpose of losing weight, we miss out on knowing we are already healthy, even before losing weight. When we assume that someone who is slim is fit and healthy, we miss out.

So, please do not sell yourself short! Don’t miss out because you have your eye on the prize on that scale. The scale is a very poor predictor of health and well-being compared to how fit you are.

Yet, weight is so much easier to measure than fitness level, it’s easy to get hyper-focused on those numbers to tell us if we are healthy or not.

How do we measure fitness? How do we know if we are fit enough? Stay tuned for the next blog for the answers.

Be Well Now!