As the American girth increases, "fit and fat?" is becoming a topic of interest by many who find themselves gaining weight.
"Fit" and "fat" are not necessarily exclusive conditions. A person can be overweight but still be physically fit, and physical fitness actually may counteract some damage that being overweight causes.
What does it mean to be physically fit? Being fit includes many factors, such as muscle strength, body composition, muscle endurance, flexibility and lung and heart endurance.
In addition to helping you maintain your weight and reduce your risk of disease, a few other benefits you can enjoy from pursuing fitness include improving your mental health, balance, sleep quality and overall stamina.
In a six-year study published in April 2012 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the University of South Carolina concluded health problems developed at a greater rate in individuals who lost fitness as they gained fat. If someone grows less fit over the years while adding fat, they have a 71 percent greater chance of suffering metabolic syndrome than those who lost fat.
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raise your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels and belly fat. They also can increase risk of heart disease and diabetes. Diet, exercise and medications lessen the risk.
The study also revealed that fitness offered some protection to those who gained fat. Persons who maintained their fitness level actually had a 22 percent lower risk than persons who became fat and lost fitness.
The bottom line: Exercise by itself will not erase the health risks of extra body fat, but it may blunt them. Maintaining fitness throughout our lives, as our bodies change, is just as important as maintaining or minimalizing weight gain. The benefits of actively maintaining your personal fitness level will enhance all aspects of your quality of life.
Browning is a registered dietitian and coordinator of outreach programs at Susquehanna Health.