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Can You Be Overweight and Fit?
Here’s What Science Says

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 9, 2021

It’s a common assumption that overweight people aren’t considered fit.

Yet when it comes to health and science, there’s a completely different perspective on what fit actually means.

If you’re concerned about your body weight yet feel as though you’re healthy, our research-based advice can help you blow away those misconceptions once and for all.

Is It Possible to Be Fat and Fit?

A woman measuring her stomach with measure tape

Being fat yet fit is a definite possibility -  it’s even possible to be obese but still considered fit by normal health standards.

To determine an individual’s fitness level, we need to look at a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI).

This index measures a person’s body fat against their height and weight, and if the individual falls within a certain range, they are considered ‘fit.’

BMI is calculated as BMI = kg/m^2, where kg is a person’s weight in kilograms, and m is a person’s height in meters.

Depending on your BMI, you may fall into four different types of categories:

  • Underweight is < 18.5
  • Normal weight is 18.5 - 24.9
  • Overweight is 25 - 29.9
  • Obese is > 30

It’s also important to note that BMI is only a statistical indicator of fitness level and should not define a person’s health.

Other issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels can affect health, which should be taken into consideration.

What Are the Factors Determining Your Health and Fitness?

Besides calculating BMI, there’s also a number of factors that determine an individual’s health and fitness, such as their lifestyle, diet, and stress.

Let’s go through the complete list of factors.

Diet

Healthy foods beside a weighing scale

You are what you eat, making a person's diet one of the biggest factors determining their health and fitness levels.

A person’s diet is the main difference between a body built for the Olympics or riddled with chronic diseases.

Foods high in carbohydrates and sugar contribute to an increased risk of a heart attack, heart disease, and elevated blood sugar, which can cause havoc within your body system.

To live a healthy lifestyle, you’ll want to adopt a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients and good fats.

Not only will it provide you with the crucial nutrients that your body needs, but it can also prevent weight gain as you’re satisfying your body’s nutritional needs instead of devouring empty calories.

It means prioritizing natural and whole foods that aren’t processed or modified.

Healthy foods include green vegetables, lean proteins like fish and chicken, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, and fruits that are rich in antioxidants that can help you lose weight.

Exercise Routine

A woman holding a dumb bell and exercising indoors

Another factor that affects your fitness is whether or not you exercise regularly.

Based on studies by Cooper Institute, researchers found that “regular exercise can help improve mental health… symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, as well as overcoming addictions and controlling weight [1].” - Laura DeFina, Chief Science Officer

Additionally, individuals partaking in regular physical activity that elevates heart rate can more easily shed excess weight, which helps overall with losing weight and preventing risk factors associated with overweight people.

Strength training is particularly helpful for building muscle and shedding weight, making it a staple of any workout routine regardless of your body type.

Lifestyle

A person eating a healthy low carb diet

All the exercise and healthy eating in the world won’t do you any good if you partake in bad lifestyle habits.

Activities like smoking, drinking, and drugs not only put you at higher risk of illness, they’ll also mitigate any if all the benefits associated with a healthy life.

Additionally, research has shown that smoking contributes to high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health problems [2].

If you’re looking to achieve a healthy weight category, you’ll also need to consider what kind of lifestyle habits to drop to reap long-term health benefits.

Body Composition

Two women with different body composition

Your body composition is made up of the total percentage of fat, water, minerals, and proteins that you store.

Besides calculating BMI, a person’s bodily composition is another alternative to determining if they are overweight or in shape.

Depending on the ratio of each of these traits, it provides a better understanding of where an individual stands in terms of their fitness.

For example, a person with high percentages of fat, protein, and minerals may be considered healthy, as their protein-mineral to fat ratios are evenly balanced out.

It could imply that the individual partakes in an active lifestyle that requires a high amount of body fat, such as a strongman or sumo wrestler.

Family History

A picture of a family reunion

You just can’t run from genetics. Depending on your ancestral background, you may be susceptible to certain diseases and illnesses passed down from generation to generation [3].

Additionally, the people you surround yourself with (aka - family members) can also influence your behavioral traits. Individuals that come from overweight or obese family background are far more likely to also be overweight, based on behavioral patterns that have been ingrained in them since birth [4].

It means if you want to break the generational curse and get in shape, you’ll need to distance yourself from the influences of those around you.

Stress Levels

A woman stressed and holding her head

Feeling stressed? That just might be another indicator that’s holding you back from achieving the weight loss results you’re after.

Studies have shown a strong association between chronic stress and obesity [5].

When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels rise, making us seek out foods that are high in fats and sugar.

It results in a craving for junk foods, which can lead to a few extra pounds on our waist - and eventually obesity over the long run.

FAQs

Could a Person Be Physically Fit but Unhealthy?

A person could look physically fit yet actually be unhealthy.

Physical fitness is only one aspect that makes up a person’s overall health. Other factors to consider include mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.

As the old saying goes - looks aren’t everything, especially when it comes to a person’s wellbeing.

Does Being Fit Mean You’re Healthy?

A person’s fitness level isn’t judged solely by their weight. Other factors such as stress levels, mental well-being, and lifestyle habits all play a role in determining your overall health.

And you’ll want to examine the big picture - not just your body weight since a variety of factors contribute to you being healthy and feeling good about yourself.

Let us know in the comments what you think and what helps you stay healthy and fit.


References:

  1. https://www.cooperaerobics.com/Health-Tips/Stress-Less/Research-on-the-Benefits-of-Exercise-and-Mental-He.aspx
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110741/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115560/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11357211
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428710/

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