You can be fit and fat, have metabolic fitness AND longevity

Can a person be fit AND fat, and live long and strong? The myth that you can't be fit and fat is widespread, but is it true.  But let's ask a few questions.

Could you possibly be slim but still be over-fat? 

Or, could you look big and yet not be over-fat? 

Can you gain fat without gaining weight?

Can you be fat and metabolically healthy?

Let me tell you the story about 3 women so you can make up your own mind on the whole fit and fat debacle more easily.


Let’s compare three 36-year old women at different levels of fit vs fat. 

Erica, often joins her son for tennis, and many evenings she's playing active games with her daughter and friends on the slides or back lawn. She also walks her dog regularly. 

Nthandi, goes to gym. She does a daily workout of weight training interspersed with aerobics but she's a large lady. 

For Mary, bending down to pick up the soap in the shower is about as much exercise as she gets, yet she's thin.

So how do each of them stack up in the fit vs fat debate and how metabolically fit and healthy are each of them likely to be?  And will this affect their longevity?


Fit and Fat plus Metabolic health

On the surface, the scale may tell one story: Mary and Erica fall within the so-called 'normal range,' and Nthandi fall into the 'overweight' range.  This would make us assume that because Ntandi is 'fat' she can't be healthy.   PS. it may surprise you to know that large epidemiological studies show that the overweight weight range where people live the longest.

But sometimes, it's the stats we can’t see are the ones that may count the most because you can be both fat and fit. One of the benefits of fitness is that done regularly it changes fat into muscle which speeds up your metabolism because muscle uses a lot more energy to stay alive than fat does. It's like putting having a larger engine in your car - it uses more gas. In other words, a body that has more muscle burns more calories and is also has a better level of metabolic fitness. 

For all the good the figure each of these women sees on the scale is worth, you may well as not use it.  You see your scale can't tell the difference between being heavy on a scale and over-fat ...besides scales are great for fish and horrible for people so this is one more good reason to throw that scale out.  As Dr. Covert Bailey says about scales - it's like having someone phone you from a butcher to say they're having a 'special' and wanting to know if you'd like some. Wouldn't you want to know what the special consisted of- I mean are you paying for meat or fat?

Scales can only measure what you weigh - they don’t give you any indication of your body composition. And your body composition affects, and is a reflection of, how fast or slow is your metabolism. 

And, here’s the biggie….the more muscle you carry relative to the amount of fat you have, the faster your body will utilize energy and the less efficiently it will store excess food as fat. 

I used to have a bit more faith in the much touted BMI (body mass index: divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters), while it might be a better measurement than a bathroom scale, it still doesn’t tell the full story, however once you watch what Prof Linda Bacon has to say about how our BMI tables were arrived at you'll see what I mean. Turns out they're just another weight loss industry con!


Ntandi is Fit and Fat

Let’s look at Nthandi – our gym-goer.  According to her scale and even BMI, she is overweight. But that doesn't mean she's over-fat! Muscle, on a scale, weighs three times what fat does. What is true is that she has a high percentage muscle, a healthy amount of fat and is metabolically fit. 

Nthandi has a roll over her waistband, she has large calves and her body feels firm to the touch although it's not as taut and toned at Erica. In a swimming pool, having taken a big breath in, she is able to stay afloat. She's experiencing the benefits of fitness and is metabolically fit.

And look at this wonderful story - tell me she isn't fit.


Mary is thin but unfit

Mary, falls within normal weight limits according to her scale and BMI, yet she's not metabolically healthy.

As Mary has become progressively more sedentary and her muscles have atrophied, she's lost the benefits of fitness. But you won’t necessarily see this on the scale because she can gain a lot of lighter fat replacing heavier muscle before it’ll register on the scale. 

So, while at 35 she may weigh, and possibly have a similar body size even as she did when she was 25, she has nevertheless become a lot fatter. Mary’s calves are small and her entire body has a soft feel to it. In a swimming pool, she’ll have no problems floating with or without a breath. 


Erica is Fit

Erica falls somewhere in between Nandi and Mary.  Her calves are about medium size and her body feels taut and toned.  She's what those inspired by Fitspiration would aspire to. In a swimming pool, even taking a really big breath in, she'll struggle to stay afloat, because both bone and muscle are dense.  Both the scale and her BMI show she’s within 'normal' limits.  However this doesn't mean she is the healthiest, nor does it mean she'll live the longest.

So, the big question is...how do we get the benefits of fitness in a fun way? 

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