Catherine Saxelby unveils the surprising truth about weight and health.
Better to be fat yet fit
It’s true: you don’t need to be skinny – even slim – to be healthy. Dr Steve Blair, who worked for the Cooper Institute in the USA, is living proof of this. I heard Dr Blair speak once at a seminar. He looks overweight and rotund, yet jogs 10km each and every day. From a fitness and health point of view, he’s at his peak.
In one of his studies of over 21,000 men in the late 1990s, he reported that men who were skinny but unfit had a higher risk of early death than men who were fit and obese – after taking into account age, smoking, alcohol and family history.
The same holds true for women. Another large study of more than 9000 women, with an average age of 43, showed that those who had a moderate-to-high level of cardio-respiratory fitness (aerobic or heart-lung fitness) and were obese still had a 50 per cent lower risk of early death than their slim, couch-potato counterparts. So as long as you’re fit, being overweight doesn’t matter.
Finding your happy weight
Too many of us think that health is all about achieving ‘a perfect body’. Being skinny is often portrayed as the ‘ideal’ body shape for health but that’s simply incorrect. The official Body Mass Index (BMI) suggests a range of healthy weights – from chunky to svelte.
So as long as you fit in that range, it’s all healthy. That means your own personal ‘best weight’ (your ‘happy’ weight) isn’t necessarily ‘skinny’, or even ‘slim’; it’s the weight your body performs at its optimum level, where you have the most energy and are hardly ever sick.
Being skinny can be bad for you!
Being too thin actually raises your chances of illness and early death, according to a review of a number of studies. The review found that being active and fit lowered chances of mortality by 23–44 per cent regardless of any changes in weight; while losing weight only dropped it by 20 per cent.
Forcing your body into unnatural thinness takes its own toll on your health. Most models, ballet dancers and gymnasts adopt unhealthy habits such as smoking, living on coffee, extreme dieting and purging to stay thin. Many stop menstruating and end up with brittle bones in their thirties, rather than in their sixties. Hardly good for your health!
It’s better to be fit and a little fat than unfit and skinny.