For the 1,000th time, fitness is more important than fatness when it comes to overall health outcomes. In the midst of the holiday hubub, I came across yet another study regarding weight vs. exercise as a determinant of health. This was actually a metastudy, which means the scientists gathered together a lot of other studies and used math and science to determine what most of those other studies said. And it’s no surprise, at least to me, that fitness is much more important than body size in determining how long and how well people live.
This metastudy analyzed the results of 10 other studies. And these studies in turn measured the results of tens of thousands of participants (the largest single study included 21,856 participant) and perhaps more importantly measured these people over a significant span of time (ranging from 7 to over 16 years). It’s important to note that the studies analyzed included both enough participants to be statistically significant and were conducted over a long enough period to see what was actually happening in the lives of the participants. Many of the studies cited regarding the effectiveness and efficacy of weight loss are conducted over a period of three years or less. Given the fact that long term studies indicate that weight loss participants tend to regain all the weight that was lost and often a little more in the 3-5 year range, it’s clear that the duration of the study is an important factor in determining actual results.
And what were the actual results in this case? I think they were pretty astounding. The metastudy indicated that unfit people, no matter what they weighed, had twice the risk of dying during the study than fit people. And the study showed that if you are fit and fat, your mortality risk is about the same as if you are fit and thin. That means that all those thin and unfit folks had about a 50 percent greater chance of mortality than the fat and fit folks during the course of the study.
So here we are heading into the holidays. This is a time when we have access to fabulous food and friends and fantastic food and family and well, FOOD. This is a time when many of us feel more and more panic regarding weight and body size, culminating in a full blown panic that hits full force right around January 1st. We live in a society where the commercials are full of food porn shots of holiday turkeys lovingly basted in butter and mountains of chocolate until December 25. Only to be replaced on December 26 with shots of impossibly tanned and ripped bodies exhorting us to make 2014 the year where we too get to look like a movie star.
The bad news is, no matter how many mashed potatoes we eat or avoid, and no matter how many crunches and squats we do, we are probably NOT going to look like the perky fitness models gracing those commercials on January 1. The good news is, we don’t have to. You don’t have to look like that to be a successful exerciser, and you don’t have to look like that to achieve massive health benefits from engaging in regular exercise. And that regular exercise doesn’t have to include 2 hours per day at the gym or running marathons. We’re talking about a cumulative total of 150 minutes per week here. Eventually. If you aren’t there yet, don’t worry. You can get there! Just start wherever you currently are with your fitness level and increase gradually, up to 10 percent per week until you get there. Some studies show that even as little as 75 minutes per week of exercise can have a significant effect on health.
So, so what?
Why am I being such a Negative Nelly and bursting your exercise bubble? Why am I not suggesting that you’ll look like that hateful woman with the three kids and the super flat abs and very tiny shorts who is all over the internet and your television asking you what is your excuse? (Because, of course, she says, if you do some exercise surely you’ll look a lot like she does!) I’m telling you this because exercise is not only a wonderful way to improve health outcomes, but is also a wonderful tool to help you feel better, feel better about yourself, enjoy a better quality of life and have a darn good time. And far too often, I’ve seen people approach exercise thinking it will make them look like a supermodel, only to give up a short time later when they find that they are not accosted by modeling agencies or Hollywood directors eager to make them millionaires or at least take them out to very expensive restaurants to tell them how pretty they are.
Exercise is wonderful. I’ve seen exercise work magic in the lives of many, many people. But it rarely works the sort of magic seen in “before and after” photo shoots. The sad thing is, by looking exclusively for the “magic of exercise” as seen on TV, many people miss the magic that is right in front of them.
Here’s wishing you a calm, lovely, peaceful holiday. And a 2014 that is full of all the magic that a moderately active lifestyle can bring to you!
AKA The Fat Chick
P.S. There is a lot of great advice about how to go from zero to moderately active in YOUR life in my book–The Fat Chick Works Out! Now get both the book and DVD for only $25.
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Today I was all excited going to my workout, because the last week has been a killer on my body and I KNEW that a 60 minute workout with a trainer encouraging me was exactly what I needed to get the endorphins flowing and FEEL BETTER. I work out regularly because it makes me happy, because it helps me manage chronic pain, because at the end of the workout I WILL feel better. I only wish I had discovered this much younger.
It’s great that we have so much proof for this and exercise is amazing for improving mental health too, however, people’s desire to be thin is about more than just health. It’s about all the things that our society associates with being thin and getting rid of all the negative things our society associates with being fat. We are taught that fat is bad and fat people are lazy, ill disciplined and greedy. Until that changes, regardless of the health benefits, people will still strive to be thin.
I loved how in one of the interviews with “Fit Mom,” she said something to the effect that everyone can find 20-30 minutes a day to exercise. Well yes, I do, and no, I look nothing like her. I always think the emphasis on weight loss and appearance actually discourages people from exercising. When it doesn’t “work” because they didn’t lose tons of weight, they tend to give up on it.
Yes, YES, YES! This notion of, if you spend 30 minutes a day exercising you will look like me is ridiculous! She just can’t wrap her mind around her own privilege. Born on third and she thinks she hit a triple. (sigh…)
Thanks for this timely reminder to tune out the usual pre- and post-holiday brouhaha over food and weight loss, and simply enjoy the benefits of exercise for the sake of enjoying the benefits of exercise.
Aaaaaa-MEN lusciouswords. Both the holidays and exercise are delicious, let’s enjoy the taste!