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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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“Both increased adiposity and reduced physical activity are strong and independent predictors of death…A higher level of physical activity does not appear to negate the risk associated with adiposity.”

                            ~The New England Journal of Medicine, December 23, 2004

Fit But Fat Risky

The study results are in. If you want to reduce the risk of dying before your time, fat but fit isn’t the way to go. Ditto for being slender but not fit. Fat and sedentary is the worst combination, of course. Lean and fit is the best way to live out your years. Sounds logical, especially in view of all the recent hand-wringing about rising obesity rates. Nevertheless, whether exercise can overcome the risk of being overweight has been controversial, until now.

Early in 1999, Steven Blair, director of research at the Cooper Institute of Aerobics in Dallas, opined that fit and fat appears to be good enough. “In the men who are overweight or obese, but also moderately or high-fit, we don’t see much increase in the risk of dying,” he told Nutrition Action Health Letter.

“There has been some suggestion that if you are particularly active, you don’t have to worry about your bodyweight, about your diet,” Dr. Frank Hu, lead author of the new study from the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Associated Press. “That’s very misleading.”

The Harvard study was large and impressive, encompassing approximately 2.7 million person-years. The researchers followed 116,564 female registered nurses for 24 years. The nurses were 30 to 55 and healthy when the study began in 1976. The nurses, all non-smokers, were monitored for physical activity and body mass. During the course of the study, 10, 282 died: 2370 from cardiovascular disease, 5223 from cancer, and 2689 from other causes.

The researchers found that being overweight or obese increased the risk of death regardless of the level of physical activity. Exercise helped, but did not overcome the higher risk of death associated with being fat.

Obese women who did brisk walking or other more rigorous activity three-and-one-half hours or more per week were, nevertheless, almost twice as likely (91 %) to die as those who were both active and lean. Slender but inactive women were 55% more likely to die. Those who were both sedentary and obese were almost two and one-half times more likely to die.

“Women who were both lean and physically active had the lowest mortality,” the researchers reported.

“Being physically active did not cancel out the increased mortality of overweight,” Dr. Hu stated.

Applauding the Harvard study, Dr. Timothy Church of the Cooper Institute of Aerobics Research told the AP: “If you’re lean but you’re sedentary, don’t fool yourself. You’re still at risk. You need to get physically active.”

Clearly, the best way to live to a ripe old age is to watch what you eat and exercise. 


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