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Fitness is Your Best Bet for Lifelong Health

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Fitness is Your Best Bet for Lifelong Health

Fit over flabby is a better predictor for health than your BMI. In new research, scientists show a fit person’s BMI had no effect on their risk of all-cause death.

For years we’ve known that obesity is a risk factor for many serious illnesses. We also know that fitness helps mitigate poor health. This has left the question: what if you’re overweight, but you exercise regularly? Does the fact that you’re fit, though your BMI is higher than normal, mitigate your health risks?

Researchers at the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health wanted to answer this question. They studied 14,345 adult men and found that those who maintained healthy fitness levels, even if their body weight was unchanged—or increased, reduced their risk of death by all causes.

The study participants, who averaged 44 years old, were followed over a period of six years. Their BMI (body mass index) measurements were calculated on a regular basis along with their physical fitness, based on treadmill tests. After more than 11 years of follow-up, they determined the relative risks of dying based on who lost, maintained, or increased their fitness levels over the six years.

Their findings, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association:

  • A lower death risk was associated with maintaining or improving fitness despite BMI changes.
  • Each unit of increased fitness over six years was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths and a 15 percent lower risk of death by any cause.
  • Those who became less fit had a higher death risk, regardless of BMI changes.
  • BMI was not associated with death risks.

The researchers suggested the study results “reinforce the importance of physical inactivity as a risk factor for death from heart disease and stroke.” What was interesting, though, was that they also found no association between changes in body fat percentage or body weight and death risk.

Just to be clear: this doesn’t mean that we should be jogging to the closest Tim Horton’s and loading up on Timbits on a regular basis!

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