In a word, yes.
- Research from the Harvard School of Public Health in roughly 100,000 people shows pretty much what one would expect about the population: lots of people are both heavy and unfit; far fewer are thin and unfit; some are both lean and fit; and only a very small number indeed are heavy, but fit. Possible, yes, but exception rather than rule, and for the most obvious of reasons: generally people who become and stay fit are attentive to their health, and a focus on health may be the best bet there is for lasting weight control.
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- But the exceptions to the rule are worth noting- particularly if you- like my friend Dr. Steven Blair, Director of Research at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX, are one of them! Some people are, indeed, fit and healthy- while their body remains defiantly heavy. There are others who simply have excess body fat in places where it does no real harm- notably in the hips, buttocks, and thighs- as opposed to around the middle, where fat is most dangerous. Such people may be “metabolically lean,” even if the eyeball test suggests they are heavy.
- And the opposite can be true; some people who look thin may be unfit, and may also have an excess of fat around the middle which can place them at high risk for chronic disease. These people are the “lean obese,” looking lean, but having the metabolic profile of the overweight. There is increasing recognition that waist circumference more reliably captures the health risks of body fat than the prevailing body-mass index (BMI).
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- Lastly, there may even be an exception not only to the rule that fat and fit tend to go their separate ways, but to what would seem the obvious issue of which comes first. While we might tend to think that lack of exercise leads to weight gain, a recent study among children in England (3) suggests (but doesn’t prove) that weight gain may lead to less exercise.
- When all is said and done, maintaining fitness and avoiding fatness matter to the health of most people (4). But you don’t choose what to weigh- you just choose how to take care of yourself. So choose wisely- take good care- and let weigh what may.