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April 21, 2008

New Study: Exercise More Important Than Weight

New Study: Exercise More Important Than Weight

It’s no real secret that Americans are obsessed with weight. In fact, even the American health care industry has begun to focus more and more attention to weight over the past couple of decades. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is challenging some long-held beliefs that heavier people are less healthy than those who are “normal” in body weight.

The study, authored by Dr. Steven Blair of the University of North Texas, found that regardless of an individual’s weight, middle-aged people who exercise regularly are less likely to die for any reason, than those of a so-called “normal” weight who do not exercise.

“You can be fat and be fit,” said Dr. Blair when commenting on the results of the new study. Dr. Blair’s research is a direct challenge to the notion that so-called “overweight” people have a higher morbidity rate on average than others. The study was the first in the United States to delve deeply into the relation between overall fitness level and weight in middle-aged adults.

In the study, researchers recorded the participant’s fitness level based on their performance on a treadmill. Body fat percentages were determined using the standard body mass index, or BMI, to correlate a height to weight ratio.

The study utilized middle-aged participants, who were followed over a course of 12 years. And as expected, the risk of dying for obese participants was higher. However, the researchers noticed that participants who exercised moderately reduced their risk of mortality, regardless of their weight.

Statistically, the study found that middle-aged overweight individuals reduced their risk of death by 33% by regularly exercising and staying fit. And surprisingly, in severely obese participants, the risk of mortality dropped by a staggering 74% for individuals who exercised regularly.

According to Dr. Blair, the new research shows that, “if you are obese and fit, your mortality risk is not elevated.” For the first time, it appears that there is real evidence to indicate that being fit means more than simply being skinny.

Still, some doctors are not strictly happy about the outcome of the study. Some see the new research as being easily misinterpreted to mean, “Eat whatever you want — be as fat as you want — as long as you exercise you’ll be fine.”

But unfortunately, this type of overreaction, and the assumption that the average “Joe” on the street cannot grasp subtle health concepts is all too typical in the American medical establishment.

What the research does clearly show is that the American fixation on body “size,” has very little to do with heath.

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