Fit or Thin?

If being obese has made us ill, then it seems that becoming thin will make us fit. Or will it?

Obesity is a hot topic these days. As a nation we have never been more overweight. Thirty percent of Michigan’s adult population is obese. There is strong data linking obesity to heart disease, diabetes, asthma and early death. Reducing obesity has become a major health directive in the United States as a way to cut health care costs, reduce chronic disease, prevent early death and improve overall quality of life for the American citizen. If being obese has made us ill, then it seems that becoming thin will make us fit. Or will it?

Thin is a body shape, not necessarily a measure of health. Fitness is measured in many ways, with body size and shape as only one component. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness defines health-related physical fitness as those components that have a relationship with good health. This includes all of the following:

  • body composition (usually this is a measure of waist circumference and BMI, not just weight)
  • cardiovascular fitness
  • flexibility
  • muscular endurance
  • strength

Body shape alone is not a predictor of health. Are you physically fit? Assess your own fitness rather than simply judging your body shape using this tool from Mayo Clinic. Measure four key areas of physical fitness - aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition to get the big picture. The message here is that you need to do more than move the scale to be physically fit. A thin person who has little aerobic fitness or flexibility may not be as healthy as their body shape might lead you to believe.

Decrease your risks of disease by improving the metabolic markers that are known to affect cardiovascular disease and diabetes (LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance). Eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and having 30 minutes or more of daily physical activity can improve many of these markers in as little as six weeks and with as few as five to ten pounds of weight loss!

What if you believe that you need to lose a lot more than five to ten pounds? Can bigger people be healthy or fit? The answer is possibly. Health at Any Size is a movement that believes that obese individuals can adopt behaviors, especially around adding physically activity as a part of everyday life, which can improve health. The Weight Control Information Network has some great resources to help larger individuals become more active and healthier while at or near their current weight.

So don’t let weight loss paralyze your efforts to be healthier. Focus on behavior, instead of weight. Avoid tobacco, avoid excess alcohol use, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and move more. It’s great to know that these four things can improve your chances of a healthier, longer life regardless of current age or weight. Think of it as a walk and a carrot – you can do that!

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