Fat and Fit vs. Thin and Unfit

The relationship between body composition (lean body mass plus bodyfat), levels of fitness, health, and longevity, continue to be hot topics in the wellness world, and this is especially true at the beginning of a new year.  Many people focus on fitness or weight loss at this time, and it’s no secret, given the extensive marketing campaigns built around the proverbial “New Year’s Resolution”.  I’d like to share a couple of brief articles and discuss the point a bit.

A recent Quartz article by Harriet Brown entitled “It’s still better to be fat and fit than thin and unfit” presented an obvious position.  The article can be found at http://qz.com/583363/its-still-better-to-be-fat-and-fit-than-thin-and-unfit/ and I encourage you to peruse it.  In summary, there is a significant amount of data that supports that people with high fitness levels (definitions vary slightly) are generally healthier than unfit individuals, and this is generally true even in the presence of higher percentages of bodyfat (categories include obese, overweight, and normal).  Much of the focus on health is on the incidence of such lifestyle-related diseases as Type 2 Diabetes,  heart disease of varying types, and mortality rates.

The other side of this argument was presented by Linda Carroll in an NBC News article entitled “Fat but Fit Theory Mainly Flops in Long Term:  Study”.  The link is http://www.nbcnews.com/health/diet-fitness/fat-fit-theory-mainly-flops-long-term-study-n278836 and this is also a fairly quick read.  Looking at over 2,500 subjects over a 20-year span, British researchers essentially concluded that obesity is potentially a “time-bomb”.  In other words, while a person can be obese and healthy, that individual is at much more risk of becoming unhealthy over time than a thin person.

The challenge in considering this topic is in how you interpret the data.  Body composition, fitness, health, and longevity all exist in some degree of relativity to each other.  It appears that a person can actually be overweight, but if somewhat fit, can enjoy similar health and longevity to others in the population.  However, it also appears that there may be factors making it more difficult for the overweight individual to remain fit and healthy, as compared to thin people.  What we have to be careful of regarding this topic and many others is the practice of excessive rationalization.  It is human nature to want to justify our lifestyle, diet, bodyweight, exercise habits, career choices, political positions, etc.  On the whole, we need to be close to ideal (an often changing and moving target with respect to wellness) with our bodyweight, our nutrition, our activity, our sleep, our relationships, and all the things that constitute our personal health and ability to both participate in and contribute to this world.

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