It’s a thorny question, alright and one which presses a lot of people’s buttons.
Obesity is a public health problem. There is no question of that. But overweight people often find the whole idea of exercise to be less than appetizing. They may even find the experience humiliating, as those who exercise in public will often attract unwelcome commentary from loudmouths in the immediate area.
So, those who believe exercise is all about whittling down their waistlines will be a little surprised to hear that, even if the exercise doesn’t result in dramatic weight loss, it will improve the health of overweight people.
Of course, losing the pounds is a complex of habits and about more than exercise. It’s about eating right, exercise, drinking more water and getting enough sleep. But the question here is fitness vs. fatness: does the scale outweigh the sweat?
Suffice to say the answer is nuanced (as it so often is).
Fitness is for everyone
Steve Blair’s study on the question in the 1990s revealed that being thin didn’t necessarily indicate a superior or even an acceptable fitness level. Since then, people of material girth have latched onto the finding, as it offers hope. Sweat is important to maintain your overall health, eclipsing the scale in Blair’s study.
And the finding of his study also offer a lot of support to people who exercise to lose weight, but don’t. They shouldn’t stop exercising because the excess pounds haven’t come off and his study’s findings encourage them not to. That’s a positive.
All the same, it would be irresponsible for me as a medical professional to state here that obesity is a healthy, normative physical state. We know that’s not true, for many reasons, chief among them heart diseases, diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Is middle-age spread inevitable? That’s the prevailing wisdom. We anticipate becoming “old and fat”. But it’s too often a self-fulfilling prophesy, with people taking the path of least resistance once they hit their 40s and their dreams of washboard abs are finally abandoned. After 40, people tend to exercise less. This effect is compounded as they age until they’re at a point where even walking is considered egregiously taxing.
So, while no one’s forever young, middle-age spread is not something we’re doomed to and exercise is part of the reason.
A little extra weight is not life-threatening, but it’s crucial that we don’t delude ourselves that exercise doesn’t matter. It’s the most important thing we can do to maintain mobility and overall health. It only becomes more important in that respect, as the years pass.
Even Steven Blair says that exercise has a beneficial effect which may be more important that losing weight.
The truth is that exercise to lose weight is a more daunting proposition than exercising to keep yourself healthy. Just 30 minutes each day will increase your life expectancy and make you happier and less prone to injury and breakdown, moving into your elder years.
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