Can You Be Fat and Fit?
This question has been in the media spotlight recently and was discussed at a panel debate at this year's Elevate event.
Elevate is ‘the UK’s largest cross-sector event bringing together the physical activity sector, academia, healthcare, policy makers, local authorities and performance experts to focus on an increasingly important and complex societal challenge: tackling physical inactivity’.
During the event this question was raised at one of the panel debates "Can you be fat and fit?" – a topic that has been thrown into the media spotlight following some new research, with most reports saying ‘no, you can’t’
However the feeling at last week’s debate was in fact ‘yes you can’!
Although it prompts a range of further questions, some of which I mention below, the simple fact is that being overweight or obese shouldn't and doesn't stop you from being active, and engaging in regular physical activity will in itself improve fitness levels. Therefore it is possible to be fat and get fitter.
Whether or not you can reach elite levels of fitness, or maximise your results is another issue, and is related to the point panel member Professor Greg Whyte (of Sport Relief celebrity fitness challenge fame) made, some 10-15 minutes into the debate – “what does ‘fit’ actually mean?”
He posed this to the audience and got a range of answers from the conventional ‘being able to run up and down stairs’ to the academic ‘a VO2 max above the 20th percentile for your age and sex’.
Someone even said ‘a double bodyweight squat’, which while a bit tongue-in-cheek, does illustrate the point nicely – fitness is specific to the individual. ‘Being fit for purpose’ as someone also said, whatever your purpose is.
It may be that carrying excess body fat limits your ability to achieve particular fitness outcomes. We certainly know that it increases the risk of disease (cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc) and the panel acknowledged that whether you can be fat and healthy is a different question.
Other issues discussed were a study suggesting that people who feel discriminated against because of their weight are less likely to engage in physical activity1 and how we can adapt exercise for overweight and obese people. It was pointed out that the considerations are similar to those for pregnant women in terms of weight distribution, and another panellist, Stephen Morrison gave the example of a new yoga class for obese men that uses a pre-natal class format as a basis.
So while you can be fat and fit, and this will reduce your health risk compared to being fat and unfit, there was agreement that this doesn't mean you shouldn't try to lose weight, or wouldn’t benefit from doing so.
With the fitness industry focussed on making fit people fitter, the debate then concluded with the panellists offering their thoughts on how we can make activity more accessible and acceptable for overweight people. They were asked what they would say to Sports Minister Tracey Crouch MP if they found themselves in a lift with her, to which Stephen’s response was brilliant: “For a start Tracey, let’s get out this lift and take the stairs”.
That set the scene for some great advice that is relevant to anyone - "make your day harder". From the classic ‘get off the bus a stop earlier’, and ‘park further away from where you need to be’, to getting up and walking to a colleague’s desk rather than calling or emailing them, when we’re talking about health it’s all about building in more physical activity to your day.
As we know though - the ‘what to do’ is relatively simple. Motivating people to do it is the challenge, which is where health and fitness professionals with great coaching skills have a huge role to play.
Learn effective motivational communication techniques for positive behaviour change, with our Motivational Communication CPD course.
1 Association between perceived weight discrimination and physical activity: a population-based study among English middle-aged and older adults - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353291/