Can you be Fat and Fit? (Preview)

Join the debate over the controversial question

by Adam Bean

fit and fat running, running weight-loss

Many of us would describe the ideal runner’s body as lean, lanky and lithe. But then someone who is none of these things blows past us in a 5K, leaving us questioning what ‘fit’ really looks like.

Some doctors say people who are overweight (with a body mass index – or BMI – of 25-29.9) or obese (with a BMI of above 30) will face health issues, regardless of how often – or fast – they run. But some studies show that heavy people who exercise can be cardiovascularly healthy and may live longer than their sedentary, but skinny, peers.

We asked two experts to, ahem, weigh in. Glenn Gaesser, director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Centre at Arizona State University, US, says you can be fit and fat. Amy Weinstein, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, US, who studies the impact of obesity and exercise on disease, disagrees. Here’s why.

Is it possible to be overweight and healthy?

Virtually every weight-related health problem can be greatly improved or cured with a moderate level of exercise, even if you're overweight. The amount of exercise necessary to achieve a fitness level that greatly reduces disease and mortality risk is the equivalent of brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or running 20-30 minutes a day, three days a week. Glenn Gaesser

Based on research I've seen and studies I've performed, it appears that physical activity cannot completely reverse the ill effects of carrying excess weight with regard to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The reason for this is unclear. It may be that the particular hormones and proteins that regulate weight and affect chronic diseases cannot be adapted by physical activity. Amy Weinstein

But can a potbellied runner really outrun a lean machine?

It's possible for a heavier runner to be faster than a thinner runner if the heavier runner has the necessary ingredients for better endurance: higher VO2 max, higher lactate threshold and better running economy. Genes play a huge role as well, as does experience. GG

Well, sure, it's not impossible. But a person who is overweight would be faster if he lost weight. Theoretically, a loss of about two pounds will increase speed by about a metre per minute of running. So if a runner runs a 5K in 20 minutes, a two-pound weight loss would make him five seconds faster overall. AW

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Discuss this article

Haven't seen any disagreement in this preview.

Is it possible to be overweight and healthy?

Virtually every weight-related health problem can be greatly improved...GG appears that physical activity cannot completely reverse...AW

But can a potbellied runner really outrun a lean machine?

It's possible for a heavier runner to be faster than a thinner runner...GG
Well, sure, it's not impossible...AW

When you get some of your represented disagreement, or stick up that nutrition plan for 6-pack to pot-bellied in 12 weeks and improve your 5k time, mebbe I'll subscribe...

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 09:11

Two experts in violent agreement with the third party author desperately scrabbling for an interesting tag line whilst attempting to pander to overweight readers.

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 09:21

You can be fit and smoke but that isn't to say that I would reccommend it. In Rugby they say that a good big un is better than a good little un. Transfer that to a good slim runner is faster than a good overweight  one.
Posted: 06/06/2011 at 09:33

The question in the title says "fit", but the subtitle says "healthy".

Those are two very different things

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 11:23

You can be, but you need an indian fella on a scooter hitting you with a spatula.

 After a couple of weeks of that, you can expect to win a marathon.

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 11:48

Fit for what?

Sumo wrestling? World's strongest man? Cross channel swimming?

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 15:58

If you need any convincing of the running advantages of keeping weight down, I suggest running with a backpack carrying a modest 5kg. Glad to leave it behind the next day or what?
Posted: 06/06/2011 at 16:16

Running with a 5kg backpack is hardly like running with an extra 5kg body mass as the extra mass is evenly distributed over your body, hence you cant loose mass in one specific part of your body. You can run comparable times in endurance events with 5kg extra as other factors such as hydration, race prep, etc come into play.  

Posted: 06/06/2011 at 19:40

Very good point John Baptiste! I have felt the diference in hill climbing with/without back pack, without it you suddenly feely like a mounain goat sprinitng up there!
Posted: 07/06/2011 at 12:32

People who exercise regularly and are overweight are likely to be healthier than non-exercising slim people. When we exercise visceral fat gets burned and this reduces our risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Non-exercising apparently slim types could still be developing dangerous levels of this visceral fat.

Having said that being overweight still increases your risk of a variety of diseases and your waist measurement is a good indicator of your overall health.

Posted: 12/06/2011 at 10:39

Define fat?

You can have a pot belly but be ripped elsewhere. I can send photographic evidence until the kettle training and core body work start to kick in.

Having been running for 2 years, I have dropped from 18 to 15 stone but still have the belly.

Legs like hewn granite and with the other gym work, arms and pecs like a small adonis.

Despite this I can only manage 8 min miles over distance and was recently knocked into 300 and something position in an 8 miler.

Some of the rugby boys finishing ahead of me had similar physique (including the pot belly). An awful lot of the 200+ behind me were rake thin.

This response is almost as pointless as the original post.

Posted: 23/02/2012 at 15:58

I'm sure you can be fat and fit.
Just the same as you can be thin and unfit.

You may not be as fast as a thinner runner, but that is different ?
Posted: 23/02/2012 at 16:02

well im 5foot 10 an 16 stone,that makes me overweight but i can run half marathons in an hour 30, now the question is am i unfit an imagine what pace i would run if i was my ideal weight of 10 and half stone and illlooking

Posted: 10/06/2013 at 18:56

Posted: 10/06/2013 at 19:08

See loads of sub 1.30 half marathoners at 10 and a half stone but no short 16 stone ones. Not saying you are lying but where did you run this 1.30 half? 

Posted: 10/06/2013 at 20:12

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