You don’t always have to lose weight to be healthy.
All you need to do is exercise and stay fit. This is what researcher Jennifer Kuk found when she looked at the benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness for heart and circulatory health in people with mild to severe obesity. Kuk discovered that people with a BMI over 40 (which is considered to be severely obese) can still be fit and healthy, provided they engage in exercise.
“Obesity is only related with worse health in individuals who were unfit,” says Kuk. “We know that once you get beyond a BMI of 40, the risk of cardiovascular conditions increases exponentially so this study shows that having a high fitness level is still beneficial and it really reinforces the importance of fitness.”
According to Kuk physical activity guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week, did translate to a significant improvement in health in obese people, even if there was only a modest reduction in weight.
Kuk and colleagues worked with Canadian patients from various weight management clinics. The participants in the study underwent a clinical exam that included measurements of fasting blood sugar levels and maximal treadmill stress tests, which the researchers used as a baseline.
They compared these initial measurements to later ones taken during the weight management programme to establish the impact of exercise on the participants’ overall health.
It took surprisingly little exercise (in the form of cardiovascular fitness) for the research team to find meaningful improvements in the health of participants in the study. Specifically, all those who avoided lagging behind in the lowest 20% fitness bracket (4 in 5 participants) were in good enough physical shape to see health improvements.
“You really have to disconnect the body weight from the importance of fitness,” says Kuk. “You can get fit without losing weight and have health benefits.”