Research Update: Can Exercise Counter the Negative Effects of Excess Weight?
You’ve probably already noticed in several news organizations the publication of research findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that assessed the claim that a high cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) might mitigate the detrimental effects of excess body weight on cardiometabolic health, termed the ‘fat but fit’ paradox. Can CRF negate the negative effects of excess weight? Let’s find out…
We’re going to skip to the end of the story for you:
According to study author Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University, Madrid, Spain, “Exercise does not seem to compensate for the negative effects of excess weight. This finding was also observed overall in both men and women when they were analysed separately.”
…refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity…Joint association of physical activity and body mass index with cardiovascular risk: a nationwide population-based cross-sectional study
The specific study notes, “…the present findings, which are based on data from insured active workers across Spain, represent one of the largest studies to date (n = 527 662) and refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity.”
Want more data, then try “…a study conducted in 2196 participants reported that although PA was associated with a lower CVD risk within each BMI category during a 30-year follow-up, individuals with overweight or obesity presented with an increased CVD risk regardless of their PA levels…”
Or let this one sink in, “… in line with our findings, a systematic review concluded that an excess BMI is associated with increased CVD risk irrespective of PA levels.” Put another way, physical activity (PA) levels for those with a high BMI, did not alleviate cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks.
We’re not selectively pulling from this study. It shows PA is a good thing for any BMI level, but the study does not find that PA negates BMI or excess weight affects on health or CVD risks.
How did we get here?
The key point to notice is the researchers wanted to use science to test the “fat but fit” claim that has grown in recent years. What has driven this claim in several areas of modern culture is the conflation between a healthy body image and a healthy body. One is emotional, the other physiological. Too many supposed health and lifestyle outlets have been amplifying the belief that all that matters is that you are happy with who you are, and any level of activity is sufficient for health. First, we’re going to stay away from that argument here – there’s too much to unpack. Second, this study shreds that from the physiological aspect.
Third, if you have weight to lose, you have weight to lose. It’s not criticism, it’s about health.
A performance-focused solution
Building your lifestyle program around performance is a solid method to combat the negative effects of excess weight. Below are three tips, each from our performance triad, on how you can tackle your BMI, if needed.
Nutrition: Get serious about what you eat. No really, get f*ing serious about what you eat. Do not go nuts, do not go to extremes. But performance management of your BMI means you own your results. Performance diets are not guesswork, either – you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers. Want more nutrition advice, then check out our article on Performance Diet Tips.
Fitness: Solve your time issues by using short duration, micro-HIIT sessions. These have shown the potential to be more beneficial than traditional exercise routines that rely on steady-state. Sound new? Their not – a 2016 study showed that one minute of intense training within a 10 minute period yielded the same results as a 50-minute steady-state trained group over a 12-week period. See our full Fitness Tip on Micro-HIIT.
Rest: As much as you exercise, and feed your body, a notable portion of your ability to manage weight comes from your rest cycle. Check out a good overview at The Healthy on how sleep helps burn fat. For now, here are some quick tips to help ensure you get proper rest: stick to a regular time for bed, it will keep your body on a schedule, do not over-sleep on the weekends, or off days, as this too will impact your body’s ability to manage its rests cycles, be careful with naps; they are fine, but too many, too long, or at the wrong time, and you can mess up your body’s sleep cycle, and during the day, get as much exposure to light as possible; this not only helps the body develop vitamin D, but also helps tell it to be awake. You can see more from us on rest here.
– Train Hard!