Over the past decade, movements such as body positivity and Health at Every Size have gained in popularity. One of the primary aims is to reduce the stigma around obesity. It also aims to dismantle the idea that body size is a reflection of health.
However, many do not deny the association between high BMIs and an increasing chances of death. This relationship has been exacerbated by COVID-19; coronavirus deaths are more likely to occur in individuals who are of an advanced age and have comorbidities. Comorbidities, such as heart disease and diabetes, often associate with obesity. Thus, obesity remains a challenging public health issue to this day.
Promoting exercise over weight loss
A recent peer-reviewed article published by iScience finds that promoting regular exercise over weight loss shows more promise for reducing health risks in adults with obesity. In this review of meta-analyses, authors Gaesser and Angadi find the following four principles to be true:
- The risk of death due to obesity with moderate to high cardiorespiratory fitness or physical activity results in a reduction and potential elimination
- Even without weight loss, exercise training reduces cardiometabolic risks.
- Weight loss on its own is not always found to reduce mortality risk. Meanwhile, increases in cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity consistently reduces mortality risk.
- Weight cycling (losing and gaining weight multiple times) is associated with numerous health risks, including increased mortality.
The authors do not deny that weight loss poses some benefits, especially for adults with extremely high BMIs. Instead, they argue that shifting the focus from weight loss to increasing physical activity in persons with obesity may improve health outcomes. While weight loss should not be the primary goal, by increasing physical activity, weight loss may naturally follow.
These findings have important takeaways for all adults – not just those with obesity. By taking a weight-neutral approach to exercise, all adults can improve their health and wellbeing. Weight-neutral exercise may be exercise with health or pleasure motivations.
Adding weight-neutral exercise to your routine
If January 1 has rolled around and you’ve shown up at your local gym to start on your New Year’s resolution to get in shape, you’re certainly not alone. By the end of the month, gyms go from being full to over capacity down to a fraction of the capacity, indicating that many have given up on their goals.
A change in perspective may be all you need to help you make fitness a regular part of your life. If you’re putting on your shoes to go out for a run with the mentality that you need to do it to lose weight or look a certain way, you’re unlikely to stick with it long-term. Instead, focus on adding physical activity to your life that you enjoy. If you enjoy dancing, take some lessons and maybe even consider getting a dance fitness certification to teach others. If hiking is more your thing, make it a priority to get out every weekend.
Gaesser and Angadi’s research show that you’ll still reap the health benefits.