It’s worth revisiting a significant quote from the highly-respected New England Journal of Medicine (December 2004) which stated, ‘Both increased adiposity [that is, increased level of fat] and reduced physical activity are strong and independent predictors of death…A higher level of physical activity does not appear to negate the risk associated with adiposity.’
In other words, being fat but fit isn’t really going to help you live a long, or longer life. This also applies to those who are lean and slender, but not fit. Fat and sedentary is the worst combination, of course. Trying to be lean and fit is far better.
Whether exercise can overcome the risk of being overweight was somewhat controversial, but sheer logic, allied with some impressive statistical numbers gives the lie to that controversy.
Almost two decades ago Steven Blair, the director of research at the Cooper Institute of Aerobics in Dallas, Texas suggested that fit but fat was good enough. “In the men who are overweight or obese, but also moderately or high-fit, we don’t see much increase in the risk of dying,” he told Nutrition Action Health Letter.
Along similar lines, Dr. Frank Hu, the lead author of a study from the Harvard School of Public Health said, “There has been some suggestion that if you are particularly active, you don’t have to worry about your bodyweight, about your diet. That’s very misleading.”
The Harvard study was large, covering approximately 2.7 million person-years. The researchers followed 116,564 female registered nurses for 24 years. The nurses were 30 to 55 and healthy when the study began in 1976. The nurses, all non-smokers, were monitored for physical activity and body mass. During the course of the study, 10, 282 died: 2370 from cardiovascular disease, 5223 from cancer, and 2689 from other causes.
The researchers found being overweight or obese increased the risk of death regardless of the level of physical activity. Exercise helped, but did not overcome the higher risk of death associated with being fat.
Obese women who did brisk walking or other more rigorous activity for 3.5 hours or more a week were almost twice as likely (91 percent) to die as those who were both active and lean. Slender but inactive women were 55 percent more likely to die. Those who were both sedentary and obese were almost 2.5 times more likely to die.
“Being physically active did not cancel out the increased mortality of overweight,” Dr. Hu stated.
The best way to live to a ripe old age, and in some health, is to watch what you eat and exercise.