Skip to content

    Heart Disease Health Center

    Font Size

    Study Gives the Skinny on 'Fit and Fat'

    Study Shows Exercise Helps but Doesn't Eliminate an Overweight Woman's Heart Disease Risk
    WebMD Health News

    April 30, 2008 -- Regular exercise has long been touted as the key to a healthy heart, but a new study shows it is unlikely to fully reverse a woman's chances of heart disease if she is carrying extra weight.

    Researchers report in the April 28 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine that although physical activity definitely helps improve cardiovascular health, such exercise does not "eliminate the negative effects of being overweight."

    The findings underscore the importance of being fit and trim and cast doubt on the newer notion that it's possible to be "fit and fat." Both obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are modifiable risk factors for coronary heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States.

    Which exerts more influence in one's risk of heart disease: exercise or weight? There's no clear-cut answer. Fat cells release chemicals that can speed up the hardening of arteries, trigger inflammation, and lead to blood clots. Exercise counteracts these potentially heart-damaging processes by improving blood vessel function.

    The new study, conducted by Amy R. Weinstein, MD, MPH, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues helps establish the combined effect of the two risk factors. The study involved 38,987 women from the Women's Health Study. Each woman provided information about her height, weight, exercise routine, medical history, and other health habits at the beginning of the study. About half of the women were considered to be of normal weight. A little less than one-third of the women were overweight, and 18% were obese. According to the Surgeon General's guidelines, 34% were considered physically active.

    During about 11 years of follow-up, 948 women developed heart disease. According to the researchers, body mass index (BMI) and exercise both individually contributed to its development. A BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese.

    The study shows that:

    • Active women of normal weight had the lowest heart disease risk.
    • Heart disease risk was slightly higher for women of normal weight who were inactive.
    • Active women who were overweight or obese were more likely to experience heart disease during follow-up than active normal-weight women, but less likely than their inactive counterparts.
    • The highest heart disease risk was seen among the most inactive, heaviest women.

    Today on WebMD

    x-ray of human heart
    A visual guide.
    atrial fibrillation
    Symptoms and causes.
    heart rate graph
    10 things to never do.
    heart rate
    Get the facts.
    empty football helmet
    red wine
    eating blueberries
    Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
    Inside A Heart Attack
    Omega 3 Sources
    Salt Shockers
    lowering blood pressure