Exercise More Important than Weight Loss for Heart Health

We all know that, for our health, we need a balance of a healthy lifestyle and diet. It takes work, thought and planning to stay fit and healthy. It’s important to speak to your doctor about your health history and goals to develop the right plan and set the goalposts you want to hit.

A new study examined the link between exercise, weight, heart health and longevity to determine where some people should focus their efforts. The researchers found that exercise, not weight loss, was “consistently associated with greater reductions in mortality risk.”

The results were obvious. In sedentary and obese people, exercise and improved fitness lowered the risk of heart disease or early death by up to 30 percent. That was true even if they didn’t lose weight. Losing weight without improving fitness lowered the risk of premature death by up to 16 percent.

A weight-neutral approach to treating obesity-related health conditions may be as, or more, effective than a weight-loss-centered approach, and could avoid pitfalls associated with repeated weight loss failure,” said the study.

It’s easy to feel like you’re “failing” when you don’t see results on a scale. That can make you give up on a diet quickly. But, with exercise, you’re far more likely to go back to trying a routine when you just “took a break” from you. People rarely feel that they “failed” at exercise the same way they do with diets. Not only are the results of fitness more beneficial, but they may be more easily obtained if a person has difficulty sticking to a regime and needs to restart.

Yo-yoing weight loss and gain can also put people at risk for health problems like heart problems and a shorter life. It’s best, if possible, to avoid it. If sustainable weight loss isn’t achievable, sustainable fitness might be. Health goals look different for different people. Multiple studies have shown that weight isn’t the only factor in remaining healthy.

You will be better off, in terms of mortality risk, by increasing your physical activity and fitness than by intentionally losing weight,” said Dr. Glenn Gaesser, a professor of exercise physiology at Arizona State Univ. He led the research and has had problems of his own with yo-yoing weight, so he was curious for his own sake and others.

Each person has their own health goals; everyone is different. But, this research is a good reminder that it’s not always about numbers on a scale. Exercise and fitness help your body on so many levels. So, if you have been focusing on pounds instead of steps, it might be time to readjust your plans as you look ahead.

Banner image: Daniel Reche via Pexels

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