Exercise the key to a long life, not watching your weight: study

Exercise is more important for better health and a longer life than weight loss, especially if you’re already overweight or obese, a report has found.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), around two in three (67 per cent) Australians aged 18 and over were overweight or obese (36 per cent are classed as overweight but not obese, with 31 per cent obese), or approximately 12.5 million adults.

A key measure of obesity is your body mass index (BMI), an internationally recognised standard for classifying overweight and obesity in adults.

Read: Walk off the weight

With obesity comes an increased risk of a slew of health problems including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, psychological issues, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers.

For a long time, losing weight has been virtually synonymous with improving your overall health. But in a new paper, researchers from Arizona State University have found that when it comes to those increased health risks, getting enough exercise is more important than simply losing weight.

The team was specifically trying to find out the best ways to improve the health outcomes of obese and overweight people.

Read: How to lose weight without running or changing your diet

The study looked at the results of hundreds of previous studies relating to weight loss and workouts and found obese people usually lowered their risks of heart disease and premature death more dramatically by improving their fitness rather than by dropping kilos.

“Compared head-to-head, the magnitude of benefit was far greater from improving fitness than from losing weight,” lead author of the study Dr Glenn Gaesser told The New York Times.

The results showed that obese, sedentary people who added exercise to their daily routine could lower their risk of premature death by as much as 30 per cent – even if their weight didn’t go down.

Read: Your diet ‘personality type’ could hold the key to weight-loss success

Crucially, this puts them at a lower risk of early death than people who are considered to be normal weight but physically unfit.

The notion that your weight may not be as good an indicator of your health as your fitness levels isn’t new and was first studied back in 1995. Since then, many more studies have reinforced this theory.

Dr Gaesser wanted to conduct this most recent study to find out if improving fitness, even just a little, might allow overweight people to enjoy sound metabolic health regardless of their body mass numbers.

The results show overweight people can potentially live just as long as thinner people – or even longer, if the thinner people are out of shape.

“It looks like exercise makes fat more fit,” Dr Gaesser says.

“You will be better off, in terms of mortality risk, by increasing your physical activity and fitness than by intentionally losing weight.”

Does this make you want to do a little more exercise? Have you been a couch potato during 2021? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer



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