Experts Say You Can Be Fit and Fat

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For decades being overweight meant you could not be fit, but today say it is possible to be overweight and fit. Many experts believe that measuring only an individual's BMI, the measurement of body fat, can be misleading. This is because muscle weighs more than fat. Somewhat muscular individuals could actually have BMIs that classify them as overweight or even obese. Therefore, health experts say a more accurate measure of overall health includes not just BMI but a test of fitness as well.

C. Noel Bairey-Merz, a cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Center as well as the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute says her research is proving fitness over fatness.

She says those who are fit are people who could walk 30 to 60 minutes without having to stop; who could climb two flights of stairs without becoming winded; or who could do some mild to moderate aerobic activity like a brisk walk or short jog.

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Such routine exercise strengthens heart and lung function, bones and muscles, as well as how the body processes oxygen and she has found that the greater the efficiency of these functions, the greater one's fitness.

Bairey-Merz measured fitness with a simple questionnaire that asks patients about their level of physical activity. If a physician is particularly concerned about fitness, he or she can administer a stress test, which usually requires the patient to walk briskly or jog on a treadmill for a certain period of time while blood pressure and oxygen levels are measured.

In one study that Bairey-Merzdid, she found that women who were routinely physically active and overweight were less likely to suffer heart problems than their normal weight counterparts who didn't exercise. And conversely, normal weight women who did not exercise, she says, increased their risk of cardiovascular disease.

"They don't have the cardiovascular reserve," she says. "They're fine sitting quietly, working on the computer, hopping on the Internet, watching DVDs. Everything's fine at rest." She stated, "Fat is our energy storage device. It's, in a way, a little bit like having something in the bank," she says. In fact, a number of studies have found that overweight people demonstrate a lower death rate than their peers who are underweight, obese or, most surprisingly, normal weight.

According to Bairey-Merz, a few extra pounds may be beneficial. Health experts like Bairey-Merz suggest doctors pay as much attention to "fitness" as they do to "fatness."

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