You are here

Which Matters More: Exercise or Weight?


Exercising on the reg but still not at your goal weight? A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has some good news for you—and your health.

When researchers from all over Europe followed 334,161 adults over 12 years and monitored their activity level, height, weight, and waist circumference, along with their death rates, they found a lack of exercise to be twice as deadly as obesity. (The study controlled for sex, education, smoking, and alcohol intake.) (Did you know you can Lower Your Risk of Death from Sitting In Two Minutes?)

Further findings: People who exercised moderately were 16 to 30 percent less likely to die during the course of the study from any cause compared to their inactive peers, regardless of weight. Being super active—without focusing on weight—would theoretically reduce mortality by 7.35 percent, whereas simply avoiding obesity—without activity—only reduced the risk of death by 3.66 percent.

Extrapolating the numbers, the researchers said that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths that occurred in Europe in 2008 could be attributed to obesity but double that, or 676,000 deaths, could be attributed to inactivity.

This isn't to say that losing excess weight won't improve your health—it likely will—but rather that exercising will improve it more, the researchers concluded. (P.S. How Much Exercise You Need Totally Depends On Your Goals.)

However, this isn't an exact science. One problem is that the study relied on subjects' memories of their physical activity, and self-reporting has proved notoriously unreliable. Plus, the researchers were looking at the effects of exercise on a population level, which means that your individual environment, illnesses, and habits will play a part on which is more important for your health. And it should be noted that at best this data shows a correlation between exercise and a longer life, not proof that one causes the other.

Still, the overall message is positive, and it confirms the findings of many other studies that have shown the vast health benefits of working out, regardless of your weight. And it doesn't take much to see the benefits—just 20 minutes of walking per day was enough to slash the participants' risk of death, noted lead author Ulf Ekelund, Ph.D., from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University.

That exercise is good for you isn't necessarily earth-shattering science, but these findings could give you the motivation to keep working out even if the number on the scale doesn't change.The important point is the power of exercise; whatever you do, just do something. (Have you signed up for our 30-Day Slim Down Challenge yet?)


Add a comment