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Can You Be Fit and Fat?

Find out what's most important for your health

What Are the Risks?

Obesity and its related diseases claim many lives each year. The annual figure was initially estimated at 400,000, but was recently revised to 112,000, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers found that underweight and obese people had a higher risk of death compared with normal-weight people.

One thing that came as a huge surprise was that the study found no increased risk of death for overweight people (those with BMIs of 25-29.9), suggesting that people with a few extra pounds but otherwise healthy lifestyles can be relatively healthy.

But don't go running to the candy store quite yet. These findings are promising only if all the other factors are in order, such as waist circumference, regular physical activity, a healthy diet, no smoking, and a lack of significant medical problems or family history for chronic diseases.

Being overweight can increase your risk of health problems, especially for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Overweight is still considered a healthy condition that needs to be addressed. The best line of defense is a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity and a nutritious eating plan.

Focus on Fitness

The bottom line is that your fitness level seems to be more important than your weight, unless you're obese.

There are plenty of overweight fitness buffs like Steven Blair, PED, of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, who describes himself as a short, fat guy who runs every day. Blair says that people who are obese but fit, according to cardiovascular measurement such as stress tests, have death rates half that of normal-weight people who are unfit.

The benefits of exercise go far beyond burning calories. Being physically active helps prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, some forms of cancer, and osteoporosis. It can also improve your mood, enhance self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and help manage stress. And improving your fitness level usually results in increased muscle mass, which means your body burns more calories all the time.

The U.S. recommendations encourage adults to be active every day from 30-90 minutes, depending on their goals. A half-hour daily is the guideline for everyone; 60 minutes is recommended to prevent weight gain; and 90 minutes is the recommendation for people trying to lose weight.

Critics worry that the very idea of finding an hour and a half a day for fitness is enough to make some folks throw in the towel. But fitness and weight loss results are highly individual. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk each day may be enough to do the trick for some people.

At the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, we advocate doing something physical each day. Start where you're comfortable, and slowly build your fitness level. If you're accustomed to sitting all day, taking 5- to 10-minute walks a few times a day is a great beginning. Remember that any exercise is better than nothing, and that you can break up your activity into increments that add up to 30 minutes daily.

As you become more fit, increase the length or intensity of your workouts to build your fitness level (if you're not sure where or how to begin, consult our fitness guru, Rich Weil, on his "Exercise and Fitness" message board).

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