A friend of mine shared an article with me the other day with the headline “You Can Be Fat and Healthy“. This is an interesting headline because there’s truth to it. There certainly is research that suggests you can be fat and healthy at the same time. However, it’s important not to take this headline at simple face value, and walk away. In order to benefit from it and take control of our health, we need to dig a little deeper to explore “how to be fat and healthy”.
I’ll give you a hint… it involves exercise and moving. And, although the investment is minimal, the health benefits are significant.
The Risks of Being Overweight or Obese
We’re all pretty familiar with the idea that increased weight is unhealthy. We hear it over and over again, “losing weight is healthy”. It’s a message that’s hard to ignore, yet hard to heed.
Here’s why we routinely hear that message.
If you are overweight or obese, you have a higher chance of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, some forms of cancer, arthritis, and even sleep apnea. Bummer, right? Remember, that doesn’t mean you will develop those health issues, but it does mean you’re more likely to. It’s like gambling though. We’re best off not playing the odds when they’re against us… after all, that’s why casinos stay in business.
So, how do we reduce our health risk, and improve our health odds?
How to Reduce Your Health Risk
Here’s some good news. Research has suggested that you actually can be healthy and overweight or even fat. It’s suggested that 20% of people with obesity are metobolically healthy, while 40% of those with a normal weight have metabolic issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
This means three things:
- We can be overweight (or fat) and healthy.
- We can be normal weight and unhealthy.
- Our weight is not a direct indicator of our health.
Okay, so if weight loss doesn’t directly make you healthier, what does?
Yeah those are good and important. But, it’s not what I have in mind.
It All Starts with Moving More
Exercise is one of the most scientifically proven methods for reducing health risks, whether you’re overweight or not. The best thing is that it lowers multiple risk factors that are generally associated with being overweight.
Here are just a few of the health benefits of exercise:
Exercise Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Research has shown that even a single session of exercise temporarily increases insulin sensitivity in both healthy and obese adults. These changes in insulin sensitivity disappear after 3-5 days, but can be regained after a single exercise session.
Insulin is the hormone which allows our bodies to use and store glucose from the foods we eat. It helps regulate our blood sugar, and without it our bodies can’t absorb sugar from the blood stream. That results in hyperglycemia, which can cause damage to tissues and cause serious health conditions if it stays elevated.
In metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), the body begins to become insulin resistant. So, blood sugar stays elevated. Over time, if untreated, the body can become even more insulin resistant and eventually progress into type 2 diabetes.
Exercises Lowers Blood Pressure, Post-Exercise
People are also shown to have a reduced blood pressure for several hours following aerobic exercise. A long-term exercise regiment also contributes to lowering blood pressure.
Many people who are overweight or obese have high blood pressure (over 140/90 mmHg), which can damage tissues and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Exercise Increases HDL Cholesterol
When you get a blood panel at your doctor’s office, one of the things they look at are your lipid levels. They typically look at your total cholesterol, but then also split it out into LDL and HDL cholesterol. This is because each have different implications. Elevated LDL is a bad thing associated with heart disease, and elevated HDL is a good thing associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Exercise has been shown to decrease LDL and increase HDL. That’s like a magic pill.
How Much Do you Need to Move?
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a minimum of 150 mins per week of physical activity. You can choose how you want to split that up. You can do 30 mins per day, for 5 days per week, or do 3 days a week for 50 mins each. It’s all about fitting it into your schedule. And, this doesn’t mean you need to set aside a full continuous chunk of 30 mins per day. If it’s easier, split it up into 10 min increments. Everything counts.
The fact of the matter is that most of us are sedentary most of the day, and it’s not out of laziness or lack of motivation. It’s largely a construct of our modern society. It’s simply hard to avoid being sedentary.
For instance, I’m a student. That means I spend a minimum of about 4 hrs/day sitting in class. Then, maybe about 2 hrs/day studying. That’s 6 hrs/day of sedentary activity. Then, I’m also working. Guess what? I work at a computer… so let’s just assume I’m spending 8 hrs/day being sedentary. That’s pretty much the norm for most of us.
SO, exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. It can simply mean moving more. The key is to look for opportunities throughout the day where you can move more, and your goal should be a min of 30 mins/day. If you get more, even better. If you get less, that’s okay too. But try to set a goal, and track your progress. Work up to the minimum if you have to. Anything is better than nothing!
Remember, if you’re exercising consistently you’ll be helping to reduce your health risk, whether or not you’re losing weight. Plus, by committing to the bear minimum you’ll be building a healthy habit. Over time you can increase your exercise frequency, and intensity, which will help contribute more to weight loss, especially when combined with diet. But for now, it’s all about building a sustainable healthy habit.
If you want a little extra inspiration, check out the following video.