As an aesthetic society, we oftendemonize body fatand stigmatize people with lots of it. Theres often an assumption that people carrying excess weight dont exercise and must be unhealthy.
But thats not true: you can be fatandfit. In fact, as we age,low levels of fitness can be more harmful to our healththan high amounts of fat.
For those considering starting exercise, try looking beyond weight loss for motivation. No matter how much you weigh, there are always benefits to exercise.
Exercise actually does apretty poor jobof getting us to expend enough excess energy to lose weight. This is partly due to acompensatory effectof our appetite, which increases after we exercise.
Exercise changes how much fat we have as a ratio to how much lean muscle tissue we have, but this doesnt always cause big changes on the scales.
Here are five ways exercise improves our health, no matter how much we weigh.
Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of how far and hard you can run without needing to stop, or how many stairs you can climb without being out of breath. Running for longer, or climbing more stairs, means you have a higher absolute cardiorespiratory fitness, which cannot be improved with weight loss alone.
Having a high body mass index (BMI)mayreduce the absolute intensity you can exercise but it doesnt mean it is less effective.
You may be able to jog between every third lamppost, for example, but not run consistently for 1 kilometer. While it may seem the periodic jogging is not as impressive, its all relative to your baseline and any exercise is better than none.
If youre carrying a lot of excess weight, you might prefer non-weight-bearing exercise such as swimming or cycling indoors to minimize stress on your joints, but this will depend on you and what you like doing. After all, youremore likely to continueexercising if you enjoy it.
If youre thinking but I hate running/swimming/cycling/dancing and Id rather lift weights, then lift weights! Although lifting weights doesnt have the same effects as cardio training, the benefits are still as important for mobility, joint function, and maintaining muscle mass as we age.
Exercisereduces the riskof heart disease and stroke, even in those with a chronic disease such as diabetes, irrespective of body fatness.
Regular exercisehelps lowerblood pressure, improves delivery of blood throughout the body, and reduces inflammation, even in those with a high body mass index.
Exercise improves our bodys ability to use energy. We store large amounts of energy as fat, which is quite hard to break down, as it costs a lot of oxygen compared to cheaper fuels for the body to use like glucose.
But when we exercise regularly, weincrease our bodys abilityto use fat as a fuel source as well asrequiring more energyat rest.
This doesnt necessarily mean more exercise equals more fat loss, but it does mean more fat turnover and typically less fat stored in and around the organs (the bad visceral fat).
Research hasconsistently shownthat people who exercise (regardless of body size and shape) havebetter mental healthand lower levels of stress, depression, and emotional problems.
It does this via blood flow to the brain, increased release of endorphins that make us feel happy, and by helping to moderate the brains response to stress.
Often, the hardest part is getting started with exercise or going to perform the exercise, but once you are moving, the mental health benefits begin.
While exercise may not help us lose a lot of weight on the scales, its agood wayto keep weight off and prevent weight regain.
Regular exercise continues to encourage the body to use stored fuels and remodel tissues (such as muscle) to grow healthier and stronger.
But preventing weight regain is tough. People who have lost weightmay need greater amounts of exerciseto counteract the physiological drive to return to the heavier body weight.
If you need some extra help getting started or finding a routine that suits you, talk to your general practitioner or consider seeing anaccredited exercise physiologist.
Evelyn Parris a research fellow in exercise metabolism and nutrition at the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at the Australian Catholic University. This article was originally published by The Conversation.