Even though it’s quite clear to me that exercise itself has no effect on weight loss, from time to time I need to remind myself that even if I’m not losing weight, exercise is helping my health. Indeed, weight loss itself is a lousy measure of just about anything. Here’s two blog posts that came across my screen this week as reminders.
A new study on physical activity that involved more than half a million participants over age 40 found that modest exercise increases life expectancy regardless of weight.
That’s right, it doesn’t matter whether you are morbidly obese or have a normal body mass index (BMI), exercise helps you live longer regardless.
Counter to most of the attention given to obesity as the crucial risk factor for health, the study found that an active lifestyle increased life expectancy to a greater extent than a lower BMI, in general. In fact, participants who were active but class I obese lived an average of 3.1 years longer than those who were at a normal weight but didn’t engage in physical activity. This is in-line with reports from earlier this year that excessive sitting is unhealthy and that reducing excessive sitting to less than 3 hours a day alone can improve longevity by 2.0 years.
When I was 250 pounds, I was eating the right amount, tons of vegetables, very little junk food. I was exercising regularly, 6 times a week for more than an hour each time without fail. I had lost almost 40 pounds but I was still obese. People could look at me and make assumptions about my lifestyle based on my size, but they would have been wrong. Lucky for me, I realized that improving my health was about actions and behaviors. Repetition of those behaviors led to weight loss.
When I was 230 pounds, I could run a 5K. I have “healthy” weight friends who cannot run one mile. Who is more fit, the fat girl who can run 3 miles or the thin girl who gets tired walking up the steps?
At no time at any weight did I ever have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, or any other diagnosable health problem. “Healthy” weight people can have heart disease. Heart attacks. Triple bypass surgery. Diabetes. High blood pressure. These issues can often be resolved by lifestyle changes. Inactivity and over-consumption of junk food can harm your health even if you are thin. Our focus is in the wrong place. How many thin people afflicted by lifestyle-related diseases thought they were immune because their weight was within the “right” range?