You’ve heard the advice over and over: You must lose weight to get healthy. True enough, overweight and obese people suffer higher rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. But is that number on the scale the only key to your health? No, say many experts, pointing to research that suggests it’s better to be physically fit and overweight than to be a thin couch potato. In fact, the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research studied more than 20,000 men and found that those who were unfit but lean had a higher risk of dying from all causes, including cardiovascular disease, than those who were fit but obese.
While this should not be an excuse to abandon your weight-loss efforts, it does mean you can enjoy the health benefits of exercise no matter what your size. What’s more, in addition to strengthening your bones, heart and other muscles, working out will improve your mood, self-image and sleep and will lower stress. Here’s how to start:
- Resist weighing yourself every day. Remind yourself that your goal is overall health, not a magic number on the scale. A better indicator is your BMI (body mass index), an estimate of your percentage of body fat. To calculate BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide by your height in inches again. For healthy women, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is ideal.
- Set specific goals. A short-term goal may be to walk five minutes at least three days a week. A long-term goal may be to walk 30 minutes most days of the week by the end of six months.
- Track progress. Keep a journal of your activity. Looking back to where you started can help you appreciate how far you’ve come.
- Get support. Enlist a family member or friend to be your exercise buddy. Having someone to cheer you on will help get you through times of waning enthusiasm.
- Embrace big chores with gusto. Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, gardening and housework all count as physical activity. Play some energetic music while you work to help keep up the tempo.
- Take advantage of everyday fitness opportunities. Walk the dog, take the stairs, hide the TV remote, march in place during television commercials, take a few two- to three-minute walking breaks at work and stroll while talking on your cell phone.
- Keep tabs on other health stats. Ask your healthcare provider to measure health indicators like your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.