I saw a news story on a major network a couple of years ago about people who were deemed obese, yet ran or swam miles per day, worked out six days a week and were in great cardio health.
They were not slim or of athletic build. They weren't filled with muscle.
They looked heavy -- as in, overweight. But they were fit and healthy. As healthy as any other person who worked out, even though they were certainly heavier than people of average weight who never did a minute of exercise in their lives.
Cameras rolled as they swam across small lakes every day, jogged or walked miles and generally were constantly on the move. They had good skin, hair and teeth, clear eyes and a very positive demeanor.
They laughed at the notion that they couldn't be called "fit" because their bodies were quite large and their health care providers agreed. Their patients were fat and fit.
I've played against fat-but-fit tennis players many times who can hold a court for two or three hours in raging heat and take home the prize.
Watching them play, their cardio and lung capacity is getting them through the hours, although obvious tennis prowess is there too!
I see the same with swimmers -- big, obese women who pass me by in the lap lanes with ease.
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A study of 43,265 people (an Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, led by Dr. Francisco Ortega, of the University of Granada in Spain) between 1979 and 2003 monitored their health throughout this period and checked their "metabolic fitness" levels.
Metabolic fitness means healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and glucose levels.
Over the years, the studies showed that those obese people who were metabolically healthy had no more health risks that their thinner counterparts.
Obese, metabolically unhealthy people were 38 percent more likely to have health complications.
What's causing this health benefit in obese but healthy people was their level of cardio and respiratory fitness/health.
If it was the same as equally fit, but average-sized people, researchers said they were just as healthy.
While lead researcher Dr. Ortega wasn't saying that being obese (the criteria for obesity is a BMI of 30 or above, for being overweight, it's a BMI of 25) is healthy in itself, physical fitness really counts.
He said, “Physicians could assess fitness, fatness and metabolic markers to do a better estimation of the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer of obese patients. Our data support the idea that interventions might be more urgently needed in metabolically unhealthy and unfit obese people, since they are at a higher risk. This research highlights once again the important role of physical fitness as a health marker.”
So a guide for all is that while a healthy weight and lifestyle is best, being over-weight does not automatically mean a person is physically unfit. And being thin doesn't mean a person is physically fit!