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Home > research reveals fitness could be a better goal

   

Your body size isn't a major factor when it comes to determining how truly healthy you are if you exercise and develop a good degree of fitness, a leading researcher says.

"Being unfit and being fat bring independent risks of dying early, so an overweight person can reduce some of the risk simply by exercising regularly," said Steven N. Blair of The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas.

To Blair, America's preoccupation with the mirror and scale is misplaced. "For many of us, no amount of dieting or exercise will make us have the physique of models and movie stars," he said. "It's an unattainable goal."

Losing weight can be a good thing, Blair said. But fat people can improve their health by exercising, even if they don't become thin--and exercise is an attainable goal. "Thirty years ago, I was short, fat and bald," he said. "Today, I am short, fat and bald. But I have run 100,000 kilometers (62,500 miles) in the last 30 years."

"As a public health problem, data from this report indicate that low fitness is perhaps the most important for obese individuals," Blair said. "The low-fit men were just as likely to die as men who'd had a heart attack, a stroke, or some other form of cardiovascular disease," Blair said.

In the new study, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Blair and his colleagues examined data on 25,174 men who were followed an average of 10 years. All were given exercise tests to determine their fitness. Thirteen percent were obese, 46 percent were overweight and 41 percent were of normal weight. About 50 percent of the obese men had low fitness.

Obese men with low fitness had 2.3 times the risk of dying compared with obese men who were fit. In contrast, obese men who started the study with cardiovascular disease had 2.4 times the risk of dying compared with obese men without disease.

Blair said that low fitness was "actually a stronger predictor of mortality than was diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or current smoking."

And because low fitness is far more common than diabetes, for instance, physical activity could have an even greater importance in saving lives, he said.

Up to 44 percent of deaths among the obese could have been prevented by exercise, compared with 9 percent of deaths if diabetes had been prevented.

Blair's advice to doctors is to check their obese patients' exercise habits as scrupulously as they check for signs of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

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