One thing that needs to be mentioned is that clearly there are two slightly conflicting points – that of fitness and that of aesthetics, and while we’ve all being conditioned throughout history to believe in such thing as an ‘ideal body shape’, there’s no such thing because everyone is different.
At no point is this more evident than watching elite athletes doing what they do best. Take whatever sporting arena you prefer and have a look at the contenders. We have Wimbledon at this time of the year and in a few short weeks we will all be watching the Olympics once again, and it’s always fascinating to see these people, machine-like in their dedication to their sport, impossibly fit, and for the most part doing similar things to train, and yet then can all look so incredibly different.
Take for example the difference in physique between the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova. Despite the latter’s more recent disgrace, it’s impossible to argue that either party is less fit than the other, and yet they are entirely different shapes.
On another note, Facebook recently told me that Kelly Brook has the ideal body shape for women. Beautiful as she is, that will come as a whopping smack in the face to anyone who’s more 1920s flapper than 1950s Hollywood siren.
While it may seem to go off topic, this seems to be an area of muddiness in this debate that needs to be pushed to one side – people come in different shapes and sizes no matter what or how much exercise they do. That has to be established as the basis for discussion.
So then we get onto the health implications of what constitutes a healthy amount of fat for a body to carry. According to Fitness Magazine, “a 2012 study from the National Cancer Institute found that moderately obese people actually lived about 3.1 years longer than normal-weight women and men. Another study, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that when obese people are metabolically healthy — which means their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other indicators fall within a healthy range — they are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those who are of normal weight.”
However, the NHS has commented more recently on findings by a major study saying “no, you can’t be fat and fit,” which seems to be pretty definitive. The original theory has been that a high degree of aerobic fitness can compensate for the complications of obesity, which now turns out to be untrue because the study found that lower levels of aerobic fitness were associated with risk of early death, but that this risk was greater for those with a high body mass index (BMI), even if they had a high level of aerobic fitness.
Glenn Gaesser from Arizona State University commented in the Fitness Magazine article that: “what we’re learning is that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin,” however, this is qualified by stating that a body that exercises regularly is generally likely to have more muscle which consumes sugar in the body and reduces the chance of excess sugar accumulating in the blood causing diabetes. Exercise is also likely to reduce inflammation of the cardiovascular system and help prevent unhealthy blood clots – basically, exercise is good for you (groundbreaking, we know).
So this isn’t about carrying fat then, it’s about carrying weight, and the two are not the same thing because that doesn’t account for all the other things you’re made up of – including the aforementioned and somewhat weighty entity that is muscle – the happy byproduct of aforementioned exercise. Essentially, you can be heavy and fit but not fat and fit.
Then if you really want to get into the subject, do you know what kind of fat you’re carrying? In recent weeks we have learned about the veritable rainbow of fat that you may be carrying on your person – is your fat brown, beige or white? (In apologetically crude shorthand – if you’re fit and don’t struggle with yoyo weight loss and gain, you probably carry brown fat, if you have a muffin top it’s more than likely to be white – but I urge you to do more research on that rather than taking that as a definitive guide to your gut).
So like we said, this is about body shape and size and maybe even weight, but not really about fat at all. The overriding message seems to be that there are lots of different types of body, and health and fitness does come in all shapes and sizes. In short, will exercise make you look like Elle Macpherson – probably not. Will it make you fitter – yes.
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