Going for a brisk walk or bike ride each day protect against a heart attack, stroke and cancer – even for the obese and overweight, according to the first study of its kind.
A study of more than 10,000 people found poor fitness was linked to higher levels of inflammation as well as bigger waists – irrespective of body mass index (BMI).
Inflammation is known to play a role in all the major killer diseases, including cancer and dementia.
Having excess fat in the abdominal area – also known as visceral fat – has been linked to heart failure and type 2 diabetes.
The findings therefore suggest large people who struggle to lose weight can still offset some of the risks of their size by reducing their harmful belly fat and low-grade inflammation through daily physical activity.
In the first research of its kind, scientists from Copenhagen University in Denmark analysed data collected on 10,976 men and women 18 or over from The Danish National Health Examination Survey 2007-2008.
They measured the waists of participants and took blood samples to measure a substance called C-Reactive Protein (CRP).
This rises when the body is fighting an infection for instance – indicating inflammation.
To assess fitness, maximum oxygen consumption, called VO2 max, was measured using an instrument called an ergometer that calculates heart and lung function.
VO2 max is a measure of aerobic capacity and the higher the figure, the more physically fit a person is.
The findings held after they took into account age, smoking history, education and – ‘most importantly’ – BMI.
Dr Anne-Sophie Wedell-Neergaard, from the university’s Centre for Physical Activity, said: ‘The association was present in normal weight individuals as well as in overweight and obese individuals.
‘Furthermore, we found a positive association between waist circumference and CRP in both men and women in all BMI categories.
‘These results suggest that, regardless of BMI, high fitness levels lead to a reduction in abdominal fat mass and low-grade inflammation.’
The finding backs previous research that has found lack of exercise is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity in Europe.
University of Cambridge researchers said about 676,000 deaths each year were down to inactivity, compared with 337,000 from carrying too much weight.
They concluded that getting everyone to do at least 20 minutes of brisk walking a day would have substantial benefits.
Dr Wedell-Neergaard said the use of BMI as a predictor of metabolic health is ‘controversial’ but her study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, could explain why up to 30 percent of obese individuals are considered ‘metabolically healthy’.
She said: ‘These data suggest that – in spite of BMI – high fitness levels lead to a reduction in abdominal fat mass and low grade inflammation.’
However, past research has suggested that ‘fat but fit’ is a myth and that obese people who are otherwise healthy are still more likely to have their lives cut short by fatal diseases.
A study published last September from the University of Birmingham looked at whether or not an overweight person who does not have diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol is just as fit as a person with a healthy weight.
But it found that they are more likely to develop heart failure, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, which causes strokes.
Credit: Culled from DailyMail