By Rosemary Marchese
Physiotherapist and mum of 3 fit kids
Why being unfit is a bigger problem than obesity and why being skinny might mean early death!
Obesity is a big problem, pardon the pun. We know that. It doesn’t take much effort to find out the statistics on weight gain, overweight and obesity. We’ve been slamming fat for quite a while now and carrying that extra bit of weight is the weight loss industry’s money-making key. But despite the money being made things don’t seem to be improving all that much. And just like many people might assume that being overweight is associated with ill-health so too many of us might assume that being thin means you are ‘okay’. Wrong.
Here are the facts;
- Not all overweight people die earlier than skinnier people.
- Type 2 diabetes is not just an overweight person’s problem.
- Your weight doesn’t tell you much at all (okay, nothing) about your body fat distribution (and where you store fat on your body is REALLY important – more on that in a bit).
- Being ‘skinny’ could mean you are TOFI – thin on the outside, fat on the inside, and that’s really not good for you at all!
So does that mean we should all go out and put on weight on purpose? No. Hear me out.
For decades we’ve been listening to the scientists that have pushed the ‘anti-obesity’ campaign. That has resulted in us trying to find ‘blame’ in something – we’ve been through the low fat, low carbohydrate, high protein diets and more. And now there’s a great movement against sugar, except that we’ve thrown the word ‘fructose’ into the mix and now there’s a bunch of people thinking that apples are making them fat but if they throw in some artificial sweetener into an organic dessert that would be a better option. Um, doesn’t sound right to me. The problems with all this are people are damn-right confused. They take one little message and all of a sudden the apples are in the bin but the pantry is stocked full of biscuits because they are made with ‘organic flour’.
If fat is so bad why are not all overweight people dying early?
Dr. Carl Lavie, author of the best-selling book ‘The Obesity Paradox: When thinner means sicker and heavier means healthier’ has been trying to point out some not so well known truths for years. One thing he asks us to consider is that if fat is so bad why are not all overweight people dying earlier than their thinner counterparts? Again, he, nor I, is advocating for obesity but it’s a question we all need to ask. And the answer is fitness. The key thing that differentiates those who die earlier to those who don’t in many circumstances is fitness, not weight. So, I’m sorry to say that if you can happily squeeze into your tiny-sized jeans but you are huffing and puffing when you walk up the stairs then your health is not in great shape, even if you think your butt is. Being ‘skinny’ (and I’m not talking lean and fit, I’m talking skinny without fitness) usually means this:
- Your heart is not fit.
- You are likely to be carrying ‘fat’ around your vital organs such as your heart and liver, to name two, which are not well-equipped to deal with this.
- You may not be any better off than someone who is overweight, especially if that overweight person is fit.
Take home truths for better health (and it has nothing to do with a bikini body)
Let’s face it. When you are 80 you are not going to care what anyone thinks of your ‘bikini body’. You are going to care about the fact that you are alive and that you are healthy. But when we are younger it’s easy to get so caught up in the aesthetic appearance of our body that health actually takes a back seat, until it’s too late.
So, if you’re aiming for a long life full of energy and vitality here’s a few things you need to know:
- Fat location matters. Storing fat around the belly region, where all sorts of horrible things can happen to your liver and heart (and more) is not a good thing. This happens to ‘skinny’ and ‘overweight’ people so don’t kid yourself that the scales are telling you the truth. The fat around your butt and thighs is not necessarily sending you closer to an early death, even if you don’t like the look of it!
- Fitness is a vital sign. Well, at least it should be. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that if you are of ‘normal weight’ but you are unfit that you are okay. Wake up and realise that there is no pill, shake, potion or any magic fix that can give you all the metabolic benefits that even one exercise session can give you.
- You need to be fit, but not extreme fit. For a long life you need exercise to be a part of it. Extreme fitness is not a part of that. Sure, you may want to tick off some ‘bucket-list’ items such as some really long running events, but in the long-term it’s not necessary, nor is it healthy, to keep up extreme fitness. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day (so, you are sweating and huffing and puffing a little) and resistance training (you can even use your own body weight) twice per week.
Rose is a Fit Busy Mum of 3 fit kids. She aims to empower mums who are time poor. She acknowledges that mums are ‘busy’ but tries to inspire them to regain their fitness through simple everyday habits that she promotes through her book ‘The Fit Busy Mum: Seven habits for success’.