By Ken Reed

Some of the unhealthiest people are also the skinniest. That’s because body weight and body fat percentage aren’t the best measures of health status or death risk. Physical fitness levels are.

When it comes to trying to live a healthier lifestyle, most Americans focus on weight — primarily weight loss — instead of exercise and physical fitness. However, the science suggests that approach should be flipped around because research reveals being physically fit is more important than how much you weigh when it comes to long-term health and death risk.

A study reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that every unit of increased fitness (measured as MET, metabolic equivalent of task) over six years resulted in a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any cause. On the other hand, becoming less fit was linked to a higher death risk. Meanwhile, changes in body weight or body fat percentage were not associated with death risk.

Researchers in the study accounted for other factors, including age, family, history of heart disease, beginning fitness level, smoking and medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

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

Physical inactivity can lead to Sedentary Death Syndrome, which is a major public health burden in the United States. Physical inactivity results in multiple chronic diseases and millions of premature deaths each year.

Exercise is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. In 2015, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges put out a report calling exercise a “miracle cure.”

While the United States is a sports mad country when it comes to spectator sports, we’re couch potatoes when it comes to actual sports participation. Relative to other countries, we’re a sedentary nation.

A significant increase in physical activity, including sports participation, across all ages in this country would yield numerous physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.

There would also be enormous economic benefits. The United States spends more on health care than any other country. Annual health expenditures stood at over 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars in 2021.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.