The good news: Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. You don't need to lose weight to lower your risk for serious illness. You can be overweight and healthy at the same time. To get healthier, count your steps — not calories.
You Can Be Overweight & Healthy
A recent study finds that obese people got healthy through exercise. They reduced their risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Exercise is Medicine
But talk to your provider first if you've been sedentary.
“Fitness had a much larger impact on health,” says the study's co-author, Siddhartha Angadi, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at UVA Health. Exercise "far outshadowed improvements from weight loss.”
Other health gains included:
- Improved blood pressure
- Better blood sugar control
- Lowered cholesterol
The study appeared in iScience in September 2021.
A Weight-Neutral Way to Understand Obesity & Health
More than 40% of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity rates have climbed over the last 40 years. So have the number of diets and weight-loss plans. But telling people to eat less and lose weight doesn't work.
“Body weight is a largely inherited trait, much like height,” Angadi says. “Weight loss causes large changes in the way our bodies process food.” These can actually make it harder to lose weight.
A “weight-neutral strategy” might make better sense. This approach builds on the fact that your weight is not the key factor of how healthy you are. It's possible to be overweight and healthy.
“Shifting the focus from weight loss to increasing physical activity may help treat obesity-related health conditions," write Angadi and co-author Glenn Gaesser of Arizona State University. Exercise, they conclude, isn't a guaranteed way to lose weight.
Why Yo-Yo Dieting Hurts & Doesn't Help
Keeping extra pounds off can be hard. Many people lose weight, then gain it back. This yo-yo dieting cycle isn’t healthy. These weight changes can cause:
- Heart disease
- Muscle loss
Focus on getting fit instead. You'll gain the heart- and mind-healthy benefits of exercise. Angadi and Gaesser also found that exercise:
- Targets “unhealthy” fat
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Is easier to maintain than long-term weight loss
Size Doesn't Matter: Move What You've Got
You can be overweight and healthy. Move more and sit less. Health experts say you need at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. You also should do strength training at least two days a week.
"Size doesn’t matter,” Angadi says. “Anybody can exercise and benefit, regardless of their size.”