Fit vs. Fat: The Misconceptions Between Fitness and Fatness
To provide some context into my next blog post, I HIGHLY recommend reading the results of a recent survey I took about the perceptions of fitness in Prince Edward County. Once you have, you may read on, otherwise, hold your opinions until you’re fully informed 🙂
Did you know push-ups may be a better predictor of cardiovascular health? (The rise of push-ups: A classic exercise that can help you get stronger, 2019)
That grip strength might play a role in the function and shape of your heart? (Hand grip strength may be associated with cardiac function and structure, 2018)
So, here’s a follow-up question for you: What do you think it takes to live a long and healthy life?
Historically, we would’ve been told that our weight is our primary indicator of overall health and longevity. If we are “normal” weight- we’re fine, and if we are “obese”- we’re fucked! We’re talking about decades of mixed media messages, classifications, advertisements, education, social influences, and political reform (link), just to name a few.
But what if I told you that more research points to fitness, not fatness… does that even make sense? Aren’t those two correlated? Well…
Research between adiposity and mortality is nothing new to us, it’s what we know most about. Men with higher adiposity have been linked to higher mortality rates (Paffenbarger et. al, 1986) just as women with the lowest BMI have reported low all-cause mortality rates (Manson et al., 1995). The caveat to these findings is that they were found irrespective of fitness qualities. In fact, many studies show fitness to be independent towards mortality rates (Hainer, Toplak & Stich, 2009). In a recent discovery in the National Institutes of Health, American Association of Retired Persons Diet and Health Study, 252,925 men and women adhered to the national physical activity guidelines and reported a lower risk of death than those who were inactive (Leitzmann et. al, 2007).
So, what does this all mean? You could be FIT, but UNFIT, you could also be UNFIT, but FIT… wtf, amirite?
According to the findings of my survey, many people would perceive UNFIT individuals based on their appearance and psychology. Whereas, FIT individuals are classified by their appearance and activity. If we put it all into two sentences objectively (based on the responses of n=100): “UNFIT people are FAT & LAZY” and “FIT people are ACTIVE & TONED”.
Let’s debunk this stigma…
For us to understand the role that fitness has on health needs a new, shiny lens. From what we know, strength is a better indicator of health and performance, regardless of age, sex, size, shape, ethnicity, taste in music, beer, NETFLIX series, cheeses, wines, and PEC beaches. Which means, the current perceptions of FIT and UNFIT people is misguided- your fitness is the common denominator.
Here are a few figures we can all chew on:
*Illustration by Ortega, Lavie, & Blair (2016). Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation Research (118), 1752–1770. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circresaha.115.306883
To make sense of the graphic above, the data points to illustrate the relationship between a. The risk of death caused by Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) with b. “Lean”, “Normal”, and “Obese” individuals. On the actual graph, the black dots indicate FIT and the triangles indicate UNFIT individuals. What do you notice?
Risk of death caused by CVD is higher in UNFIT individuals than FIT- no doubt; however, do you see that if you are FIT but “lean” or “normal” or “obese”, there is no greater or lesser signs of risk of death caused by CVD? This means, you could be “lean” but have higher risks of death than a FIT, “obese” person… (Ace Ventura inhale) I think I just heard a tragic crash to the ego of societal “norms” and anyone that parlays to profit from getting people to doubt their self-worth based on their size (GASP!).
Let’s get something straight here: FAT isn’t the enemy, it’s sugar (LINK). Something we find in a lot of processed foods and other foods promising “Low-Fat” or “Zero-Calories”. According to the Hastings Prince Edward Population Health Assessment (2017), 60% of people in HPE voted that unhealthy food choices are too easily accessible. In low-income households, access to unhealthy food lays the groundwork for low-energy that results in lower participation to be physically activity (Fram et al., 2015). You’re talking about a whirlwind of barriers and obstacles that face afflicted populations, yet, the consensus of the community survey defines UNFIT people to be FAT & LAZY.
I challenge you to question your perceptions about FIT and UNFIT people. Social constructs can be a debilitating, obstructive, prejudicial, and absolutely unfair, especially considering what we now know about how fitness is an independent quality of being FIT or UNFIT.
So yes, you can be ACTIVE and UNFIT; TONED, but not FIT. You can also be FAT and FIT; not LAZY, or UNFIT. I have a client that once told me that your body is the most honest system- more honest than your brain could ever be, and that’s beautiful. It tells you what you are physically capable of when a certain amount of stimulation is presented. I challenge you to test your fitness to learn more about your strength.