Over the past 10 years the use of body mass index (BMI) and/or waist girth in order to classify an individual as obese has become very common. During this same time one of the most hotly debated issues among health care professionals has been the relationship between an individual's BMI or waist girth, and their health and fitness.

There is no question, compared with people of normal weight, numerous studies clearly indicate obese people have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis of the knee, and some forms of cancer. We also know obese people have higher death rates than normal weight people. However, how do we know the higher disease and death rates in obese people are due exclusively to obesity, and not the physical inactivity and low tness levels typically associated with obesity? Much research now strongly suggests tness, not fatness, is the more important issue.

For example, a landmark study done at the Cooper Aerobics Institute over a 20-year period indicated disease rates were similar for moderate and highly obese individuals, regardless of their BMI category. Further, the death rates for individuals with low fittness levels were also higher regardless of their BMI category. In other words, tness was a more powerful predictor of disease and death than BMI. Indeed, the study demonstrated those with low fittness levels, but with a BMI of less than 27 (i.e., unfit but thin), were actually at a greater risk for death than those with high fitness levels, but with a BMI of greater than 30 (i.e., t but fat).

Additional research has indicated that after cardiorespiratory tness is taken into account, the percentage of body weight derived from fat does not seem to matter in predicting death. Nor does waist girth. When studies measure men for waist girth, it is clear that t men with big waists had a much lower death rate than unfit men with small waists. No matter how obesity was measured (BMI or waist girth), fitness, not fatness, is the best predictor for a long and disease-free life.

The good news for walkers is that to be t you do not have to be an athlete, although you do need to be physically active on a regular basis. Increasing your fittness can make a highly important difference to your health and overall well-being. The way to become physically t is to become active. Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, is enough to put people into a moderate fitness category.
Thinness is ne if you want to be a swimsuit model. However, as research shows, you are better off being t and having a fat waist than having a small waist and being unfit.

First seen in Walk Magazine. Visit Walk-Magazine.com