The study, led by Glenn Gaesser of Arizona State University in Phoenix, analyzed the relationship between fitness, weight, heart health and longevity. Results showed that exercise, even for overweight or obese people, typically lowered the risk of heart disease and premature death far more than dropping weight or dieting.
"A weight-neutral approach to treating obesity-related health conditions may be as, or more, effective than a weight-loss-centered approach, and could avoid pitfalls associated with repeated weight loss failure," the study concluded.
Gaesser for decades has studied the effects of physical activity on people’s body compositions and metabolisms, according to The New York Times. He collaborated with Siddhartha Angadi, a professor of education and kinesiology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, to analyze over 200 meta-analyses and individual studies.
"Compared head-to-head, the magnitude of benefit was far great from improving fitness than from losing weight," Gaesser wrote.
The results indicate that exercise or improved fitness among sedentary, obese men and women lowered their risk for premature death by as much as 30%, even if they don’t lose weight.
However, just focusing on losing weight did not change the risk much: The risk dropped by about 16%, but not across all studies.
"Before prescribing exercise, health care professionals should risk-stratify their patients based on the ACSM preparticipation screening guidelines," Gaesser suggested. "Following risk stratification, health care professionals can provide an exercise prescription or alternatively or provide a PA referral to a qualified exercise professional."