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Keeping Fit and Active More Important Than Losing Weight: Study

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You only need to pick a magazine or visit most websites and you will come across weight loss advertisements running at the side margins. It seems as though a whole generation of people seem to think that being healthy can be achieved by losing weight.

And though this may be true to a certain extent with obesity rising to epidemic proportions in developed nations, it certainly is only a part of the equation, and as research found out, not the most critical part of the death risk equation.

According to a study done by the American Heart Association, a person’s risk of death is higher if the person is leading a sedentary lifestyle and not keeping fit through higher activity levels and exercise, even though their body weight and thus the body mass index (BMI) is in the normal range. (1)

Body mass index is a rough but popular measure that assesses the person’s weight unit for every height unit of the body and thus provides a ready indication if the person is in the normal weight range, overweight or obese range.

A BMI reading of under 25 is considered normal; a range between 25 and 29 is considered overweight; and readings 30 and beyond are rated as overweight. The main objective of the BMI is to have a person alter their lifestyle patterns like those that revolve around diet and exercise.

The study whose findings were published in the Journal of American Heart Association – Circulation had observed more than 14,000 men around 44 years old, from white middle or upper socio-economic strata of society for over a six-year period and was supported by the National Institutes of Health. However, to test the larger scope of the study, more tests would be required including women, different races and socioeconomic factors.

According to the lead researcher of the study, Duck-chul Lee, Ph.D who is also the physical activity epidemiologist in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health in Columbia, “This is good news for people who are physically active but can't seem to lose weight. You can worry less about your weight as long as you continue to maintain or increase your fitness levels.” (2)

The study’s findings can be summarised as: (3)

• For every unit of increased fitness* over the 6-year period, the associated risk of death by cardiovascular conditions went down by 19 percent.

• For every unit of increased fitness* over the same period, risk of death by any health cause was cut by 15 percent.

• Despite positive BMI changes, death risk was pegged if the person was unfit.

• BMI was not associated with death risk.

Results of the study underscore the importance of physical inactivity as a risk factor for death from heart disease and stroke, said researchers. Researchers also found no association between changes in body fat percentage or body weight and death risk.

This six-year study was then backed by a 11-year followup of the same participants. Factors which affected outcomes of the study such as change in BMI, family history of heart diseases, baseline fitness levels, lifestyle changes, smoking, medical conditions, physical activity levels, etc. were all taken into consideration.

* Fitness was measured as MET or Metabolic Equivalent of Task which is measure that indicates the energy spent in doing any physical task.


1. Physical Fitness Trumps Body Weight in Reducing Death Risks, Study Finds; Science Daily News; February 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111205165120.htm

2. Physical fitness trumps body weight in reducing death risks; Amercian Heart Association Newsroom Home; February 2012; http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/physical-fitness-trumps-body-weight-219973.aspx

Technical report of the study may be had at:

1. Long-Term Effects of Changes in Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Body Mass Index on All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Men; Circulation - AHA Journals; February 2012; http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/124/23/2483


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer: ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1 (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman: ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2 (Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Your-Mind-Tested-Mantras/dp/8120759737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316063179&sr=8-1) and the upcoming Women’s Complete Fitness Guide (Publisher: Hay House India).

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer and sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites.

She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation. Please visit www.mamtasingh.com

Reviewed March 20, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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