A review of 19 studies covering 1.5 million people shows that being even a little bit overweight shortens your life and the heavier you are, the more likely you are to die of cancer and heart attacks (New England Journal of Medicine, December 2, 2010). Two-thirds of North American adults are overweight or obese.
Doctors measure overweight with a Body-Mass Index (BMI) number: your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. A normal BMI is 22.5 to 25. Having a BMI of 27.5 increases your chances of dying from a heart attack by 50 percent, and a BMI over 40 increases risk by more than 400 percent. Similar increases in BMI apply to death from cancers.
No Such Thing as Healthy Overweight Men
"There appears to be no such thing as metabolically healthy obesity," said Dr. Johan Arnlov, author of a 30-year follow up report of 1800 Swedish men showing that overweight middle-aged men are at increased risk for death and heart attacks, even if they do not have metabolic syndrome or diabetes (Circulation, January 19, 2010). Arnlov and his colleagues checked all the men for metabolic syndrome: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides (fats), low HDL ("good") cholesterol and a broad waist size (40 inches for men, 35 for women). Metabolic syndrome is the presence of three or more of these risk factors. Follow-up for 30 years showed that the risk of a heart attack was 52 percent higher in overweight men without metabolic syndrome, 74 percent higher in overweight men with metabolic syndrome, 95 percent higher in obese men without metabolic syndrome and 155 percent higher in obese men with metabolic syndrome.
Reducing Overweight a Little Prolongs Life
Being overweight shortens lives because full fat cells produce immune cells that turn on your immunity to promote inflammation that causes diabetes, heart attacks, cancers, arthritis and other diseases. Losing as few as 10 pounds can reduce an over-active immune system to that of a thin person (The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, June 2010).
Exercise Helps to Prevent Weight Gain
The average person spends a lifetime gaining weight and exercise helps to prevent weight gain with aging. Researchers measured BMI and waist circumference in more than 3,400 men and women and followed them for 20 years. The most-active men gained 5.7 pounds less than those least active, and the most-active women gained 13.5 pounds less than the least-active women (JAMA, December 15, 2010). Many other studies show that exercising regularly helps to protect even those who continue to be overweight.
Message: Being even a little bit overweight shortens lives, and exercise helps to prevent weight gain with aging.