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It's healthier to be overweight and strong than lean and weak

Rodney Corn·2 min read·Science

Science suggests that we need a renewed view of how healthy people might look like.

When asked to picture someone who is healthy and fit, we typically imagine someone who is trim and lean. Rarely do we picture someone who is large or overweight. This is an unfortunate oversight on our part since we have known for decades that health is not specific to size or weight only. Rather the amount of strength, be it cardiorespiratory or muscular, is more beneficial for overall health. This is known as the “fat but fit” paradox.

Numerous research studies have shown that stronger men and women, young and old who are overweight, or even obese, can have better all-cause mortality outcomes than those who are lean and weak. In other words, those who have better levels of cardiorespiratory and/or muscle strength & power regardless of their body mass index, waist circumference, or body fat percentage, live longer and have less incidence of mental and physical disease.

Based on numerous research articles, science suggests increasing muscle and/or cardiorespiratory strength/power be the primary focus for decreasing disease and mortality, more so than weight loss. This does not suggest weight loss is not important; it’s about priority.

References

Alcazar, J., Navarrete-Villanueva, D., Mañas, A., Gómez-Cabello, A., Pedrero-Chamizo, R., Alegre, L. M., Villa, G., Gusi, N., González-Gross, M., Casajús, J. A., Vicente-Rodriguez, G., & Ara, I. (2021). “Fat but powerful” paradox: association
of muscle power and adiposity markers with all-cause mortality in older adults from the EXERNET multicentre study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(21), 1204–1211. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2020-103720 ‌ Gaesser, G. A., Tucker, W. J., Jarrett, C. L., & Angadi, S. S. (2015). Fitness versus Fatness: Which Influences Health and Mortality Risk the Most?. Current sports medicine reports, 14(4), 327–332. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0000000000000170

Ortega, F. B., Cadenas-Sanchez, C., Lee, D., Ruiz, J. R., Blair, S. N., & Sui, X. (2018). Fitness and Fatness as Health Markers through the Lifespan: An Overview of Current Knowledge. Progress in Preventive Medicine (New York, N.y.), 3(2), e0013. https://doi.org/10.1097/pp9.0000000000000013

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