Can you be both fat and fit? On one hand we have plenty of statistics linking excess weight with multitude of chronic illnesses. On the other hand there are plenty of examples of overweight people who are in good physical condition.
Physical and mental health is an interplay between various behavioral factors, genetics, social and environmental factors. Excess body fat is just one risk factor.
What does fat do?
Body fat insulates your body to help regulate core body temperature. It surrounds the body and organs to protect them from sudden movement and act as a protective cushion. It is a source of energy when your body is depleted of glucose. It helps maintain healthy skin and hair.
Why is excess fat bad?
There comes a point where increased body fat provides no function and only adds physical stress on the body. It is dead weight. It also over insulates the body (which is why fat people sweat more) and inhibits movement. It presses up against your organs causing stress. It is also associated with a lot of other behavior factors that increase the risk of disease.
What do they mean by fat?
Most studies involving obesity measure with BMI. BMI is a measurement of your weight in relation to your height. Body fat percentage is a more reliable measurement of health. Even within BF%, there are still other factors such as muscle mass and bone density which play a role. While there is a correlation between BMI and BF%, there is not a direct link. A lot of fit guys in particular are technically overweight because of their high muscle mass. A lot of people with healthy BMIs that don’t exercise have unhealthy BF% along with having weaker bones and less than ideal muscle mass.
What did they find?
What many of these studies indicate is that people can simultaneously be “metabolically healthy” and “overweight”. When they say “metabolically healthy” they mean they didn’t have unhealthy numbers for enough of the set of factors they quantified to be considered “metabolically unhealthy”. Basically they have not developed disease… yet. Metabolically healthy overweight people have lower risk for disease than metabolically unhealthy people who are not overweight. Metabolically healthy non-overweight have a lower risk for disease than metabolically healthy overweight people.
Metabolically Healthy vs Fit.
Being metabolically healthy is not the same thing as being fit. If health received grades, to be metabolically health you would need a C, satisfactory and passing but not necessarily ideal. To qualify as being fit you need to have more like a B+. I still think people with more than ideal body fat can still be fit, but they would most likely be healthier if they lowered their body fat to an ideal level in a healthy manner.
While excess body fat is a risk factor, it is only one form of physical stress on your body. If a person has a higher BF% but exercises regularly and eats clean foods (just more than needed) then they probably will be somewhat healthy. Certainly healthier than a skinny person that eats processed crap and doesn’t exercise.
Ultimately the message is the same. Being fit is dependent on a number of factors and it isn’t black and white. Regular strength and cardiovascular exercise is good. Eating a balanced diet full of vitamins and nutrients is good. Your body is constantly working to achieve homeostasis (balance) and is pretty good at tolerating the crap we put it up to. The more stress we put it under either by having to much or too little of something, the harder it has to work to maintain homeostasis and the faster it burns out (illness/ death). Some people are genetically designed to better handle certain forms of stress so will react differently than the average person.
Ultimately each individual has a choice. While excess body fat is a stress on your body and a risk factor for disease, it is not an indication of their health as a whole. If they are okay with taking some risk, then that is their own choice. If they just want to do enough to be at a low risk for disease, that is their choice. I think if a person is participating in destructive behaviors, then trying to help them is probably a good thing. But they need to make the decision on their own. I personally strive for optimal health, I want to be the best version of myself both inside and out. I like having the higher levels of endorphins and energy. I enjoy looking fit, it makes me feel good. But that is my decision. Not being fit, less fit or taking different risks than you does not make them less worthy of a person. While it is important for people to be informed about the facts and occasionally given a little push in a different direction, ultimately everyone deserves respect. Everyone should be accepted and treated well regardless of the way they live their life.
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