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Can you be overweight and fit?

Our concept of what constitutes a healthy body has changed over the years. With a rise in both body shaming and body positivity campaigns in the media, we can be left wondering, can someone really be both overweight and fit? 

Fitness is usually considered in three parts: aerobic (cardiovascular), strength and flexibility. Whilst it’s certainly possible for overweight people to outperform those of a normal weight, excess weight strains the joints, organs and cardiovascular system.  

Evidence suggests people who are obese and sedentary, underprivileged and/or medically neglected are more likely to have reduced lifespans. A recent study of 3.5 million GP records by the University of Birmingham found that ‘healthy’ obese people, who had normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, were still at higher risk of serious disease than healthy people of normal weight. The obese people had 49 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, 7 percent increased risk of stroke, and 96 percent increased risk of heart failure. This tells us obese people with healthy blood pressure and cholesterol still have an increased risk of heart problems and strokes. 

Body shape over body weight 

The shape of our bodies and where we store our fat is also a factor in our ongoing health. Those who are ‘apple shaped’ and store weight around their middles are at higher risk of problems. This is because fat around the organs (visceral fat) is most dangerous. If you’re significantly obese, you’ll likely have excess visceral fat whatever your body shape. 

Waist circumference is a risk indicator for cardiovascular disease. Women should aim to be under 31.5 inches and men under 37 inches. The hip-waist ratio calculator from Diabetes UK can help you determine your risk possibility and whether you’re an apple or a pear shape. 

One thing we do know is that there are many studies that have proven a link between exercise and increased physical and mental health. It’s always beneficial to exercise as increasing fitness, regardless of losing body fat, will improve overall health and decrease risk of heart disease. It’s never healthy to be obese but it’s certainly possible to be fitter than a thinner counterpart and carry lower risk than them if they’re inactive. 


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