What’s better? To be overweight and exercise regularly or to be slender and not exercise? Many people are surprised to learn that an overweight exerciser is generally far healthier.
Regular exercise strengthens the lungs, heart, muscles and immune system, as well as improves blood lipids and blood glucose control. As James Fries, a former professor of medicine at Stanford University said, “If you had to pick one thing, one single thing that comes closest to the fountain of youth, it would have to be exercise.”
Have you ever noticed how professional football linemen have fat around their middle? They’re fit and strong, and the fat increases their mass plus provides padding. Once the season ends or they retire, however, it’s critical that they reduce their caloric input and continue their exercise program.
An individual can carry excess fat and still be healthy — to a point. At some stage, the extra fat and weight becomes a liability. It depends upon whether it’s subcutaneous fat, located just beneath the skin, or visceral fat, located inside the abdominal cavity. Visceral fat is the devil because it’s deposited around the organs, including the heart. Fat can even be deposited in the organs, which is decidedly not a good thing. Both types of fat burden joints and can cause muscle strain.
Genetics plays a role in where fat is stored, as do age and gender. If excess fat is acquired in childhood, it tends to be deposited as both subcutaneously and viscerally, though mostly subcutaneously. Once fat cells have formed in childhood, they remain for a lifetime, waiting to be filled. This is one reason why it’s hard for those individuals to maintain a slim outline as adults.
Fat acquired in adulthood by men tends to accumulate in the abdominal cavity — visceral — and is linked to serious health problems. Adult women tend to have greater increases in subcutaneous fat. A body that represents the shape of a pear (with wider hips and thicker thighs) versus an apple (with larger waistline) is better from the viewpoint of health.
Both being too fat or too thin generate health risks. The best solution is to regulate the energy in (calories) and increase the energy output (exercise). Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking and cycling, as well as strength training are both important.
Footnote: This article originally appeared in my column, “Fitness Beyond 50” in the News-Press, Fort Myers, Florida.