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Lean But Unfit May Be Better Than Fat and Fit

Jan. 19, 2014|517 views

Most people know that maintaining a healthy body weight is good for you. Lean people are less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Fitness is an important part of reducing one’s risks for these and other common, serious diseases. There’s a perception that it’s okay to be overweight as long as you remain physically fit and active.

But new research out of Sweden calls that belief into question. A large, long-term study concluded that men who are lean, but unfit, in middle age are less prone to heart attack than middle-aged men who are physically fit, but overweight. The study followed the progress of more than 700,000 men for more than three decades. Being physically active in the teen years was linked to a reduced risk of heart attack later in life. So fitness is definitely important.

However, “ alone does not appear to fully compensate for the risks with being overweight or obese,” said researcher, Peter Nordström, in a press release. “In other words, having a normal weight is more important than being in good physical shape...” Even better, he added, is to be both normal weight and physically fit. Basically, researchers found, regular fitness training in the late teen years is consistent with a 35% lower risk of premature heart attack.

The study only included men, because they became subjects by being conscripted into national service. The relationships among body weight, fitness level, and disease risk are complex, so it’s still too early to say that the results apply similarly to women. But it’s something to think about the next time you’re tempted to indulge in a high-calorie treat, or shrug off your body weight goals.

Tags:  body image, workouts