The core message of extensive research is quite clear: lack of exercise has a larger negative effect on your health than being overweight. This is in contrast to the popular idea that being overweight is the principle cause of metabolic and chronic disease. What this means is that the factors that contribute to weight gain are more significant causes of disease than the extra weight itself.
Perhaps ironically this is great news. What it means is that you don’t need to lose weight in order to improve your health because you can reduce risk factors for disease with exercise alone. While this may seem to fly in the face of conventional thinking it is also true that conventional thinking is not helping anyone get well – quite the reverse. Time to think outside the box.
It is not new science that is telling us that exercise is important for wellbeing. The real problem is that the loudest message is the one that says you have to lose weight in order to be healthy. However this is factually wrong. It is quite the opposite – you have to get healthy in order to lose weight. Excess weight is symptomatic of poor health rather than the cause.
As an example I had a chronically unfit client in his late forties who was about 10 kg overweight and with very high blood pressure. He was taking beta blockers and other blood pressure medications. He stubbornly refused to change his poor eating habits but continued with exercise. Within 3 months his blood pressure had returned almost to normal and his medications were reduced considerably. He had still not lost weight.
The weight loss industry has a lot to answer for. It has encouraged the message that losing weight is essential to gaining health. The problem this creates is that when people try and fail to lose weight they give up on exercise because they think it doesn’t work. They have effectively surrendered to poor health. However, independent of weight loss, exercise is improving their health status considerably. By staying the course they will eventually lose weight as all of their symptoms of poor health abate.
I don’t want to understate the importance of good nutrition. If the client I just described had also decided to eat well the benefits for his health would have multiplied considerably.
The bottom line is that if you do the things that enable good health you will lose weight but the health benefits will kick in long before that.
You can see the research here: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2015/01/14/ajcn.114.100065.abstract