Dr. Alejandro Lucia, study author, says "This was the first nationwide analysis to show that being regularly active is not likely to eliminate the detrimental health effects of excess body fat. Our findings refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the harmful effects of overweight and obesity." He adds "One cannot be fat and healthy."
Research suggests that being 'fat but fit' has similar implications on cardiovascular health as being 'thin but unfit.' Dr. Lucia adds that this has led to controversial proposals for health policies to prioritize fitness and physical activity over weight loss. This study strived to shed light on the link between fitness, body weight, and heart health.
Data for the study was obtained from 527,662 working adults with an average age of 42 years, and 32% were women. Participants were divided into groups of people with normal weight (42% of participants), overweight (41%), or obese (18%), based on their BMI.
They were also grouped by activity level - regularly active (24.2%), insufficiently active (12.3%), and inactive (63.5%). Cardiovascular health was established according to three major risk factors for heart attack and stroke - diabetes (in 3% of participants), high cholesterol (30%), and high blood pressure (15%) .
Findings showed that at all BMI levels, any activity (regular or insufficient) was linked with a lower likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol compared to no exercise at all. "This tells us that everyone, irrespective of their body weight, should be physically active to safeguard their health." says Dr. Lucia.
He suggests that more activity is better, as, at all weights, the odds of diabetes and hypertension decreased as physical activity rose. Nevertheless, overweight and obese people were found to be at greater cardiovascular risk, irrespective of activity levels. In comparison to inactive normal-weight individuals, active obese people were almost twice as likely to have high cholesterol, four times more likely to have diabetes, and five times more likely to have high blood pressure.
Dr. Lucia adds that exercise doesn't seem to compensate for the negative effects of excess weight as the findings overall the same in both men and women. Weight loss should remain a primary target for health policies along with promoting active lifestyles.