Can you be fit and fat? For years we’ve heard that being overweight puts us at risk for a slew of diseases from diabetes to heart disease. But most of that research doesn’t factor in one important fact: fitness. What happens when people are overweight but also fit? Does being fit protect you from the health consequences of excess pounds? And, more importantly, might there be an even more important reason to exercise besides weight loss?

Apparently it does. Researchers analyzed the results of fitness tests done between 1979 and 2001 on over 2000 men and women aged 60 or older, and classified them into three levels of fitness:
Low, Moderate and High.

Those in the "Low" group scored in the bottom 20% on the standard treadmill-based test; the next 40% were the "moderate" group and the upper 40% were "high".

The researchers also classified the participants into three groups- normal weight, overweight and obese, using standard Body Mass Index values.

Then they followed the participants for an average of 12 years and looked for any relationship between fitness level, fatness and likelihood of dying from any cause.

What they found was that those in the category of “moderately fit” had a death rate that was one half that of those in the “unfit” category. And those in the most fit category- the top 20%- had a death rate of one quarter that of the bottom 20%.

That's pretty amazing, considering how low the bar was to get into the "moderate" or "high" fitness group- all you had do was not be in the bottom 20 percent!

You’d think that those who were overweight, especially those who were obese, might die at a higher rate than those who weren’t. But that was only so when the researchers didn’t factor in fitness level. Once they did, adiposity- the technical name for “fatness”- didn’t predict anything by itself. Fitness basically “evened the score”. Dr. Steven Blair, lead researcher on this study, told me “I love this data because I’m a 68 year old fat man who runs 25 miles a week!”

So what it would take for someone to get out of that bottom 20% (the “unfit” group) and significantly reduce their risk of dying? Merely 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least 5 days a week. Moderate intensity activity translates to walking, yardwork or playing with your grandchildren. Any one of these will produce the fitness level called “moderate” and will keep you out of that bottom 20%.

Best of all, the 30 minutes does not have to be consecutive. Blair’s research shows that you can accumulate that 30 minutes over the course of the day. Two 15 minute sessions or three 10 minute sessions will accomplish the same thing.

Sure, you're not going to compete in the Mr. Olympia or the Ms. Fitness contest with that level of exercise. But it's enough to keep you alive and healthy longer, and that should be worth something!

The bottom line: Being overweight does not have to condemn you to an early death. According to Blair’s research, which has been going on since the mid-1990’s, a fat person who is moderately fit has no greater risk of dying than a “normal weight” person. Being even moderately fit evens the playing field completely.

Author's Bio: 

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS is the author of "The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth” as well as two other best selling books. A board certified nutritionist with a Masters degree in psychology, he is a featured health writer on America Online and was the Weight Loss Coach for for ten years. A popular and dynamic speaker, he has been contributed material to over 50 national publications and appeared on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as a nutrition, weight loss and health expert. Dr. Bowden is Self-Growth's Official Guide for Nutrition. For more info, free newsletter and free audio courses, please visit him at

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