Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

Shifting the focus from size to exercise

The verdict is in: it is possible to be fat and fit. And it might be better for your health than being skinny and sedentary.

It should be no surprise to anyone that wolfing down a greasy beef burger and chips a few times a week won’t do you any good. It should be equally unsurprising that regular physical activity, be it walking or surfing or doing star jumps in your lounge room, will help to keep you healthy.

What might not be so well known is that the way a person looks isn’t always a good measure of how fit they are. Being overweight or obese doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy.

Take Mimi Valerio, the ultra-marathon runner who pushes the stereotype of what an athlete should look like. Or Erica Schenk, the plus-sized model who got tongues wagging when she appeared on the cover of Women’s Running magazine.

An increasing body of scientific research (more info here, here, here, here, here and here) shows it’s better to be fat and fit than skinny and sedentary.

That’s why Dr Evelyn Parr, an exercise and nutrition scientist at ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, says it’s time we shifted our focus.

“It frustrates me that as a society we put so much emphasis on somebody’s size and weight, because in many cases it’s genetic — some individuals are always going to be slimmer than others — but our aerobic fitness is something we can control, modify and improve, by staying active,” she said.

“The body is a lot more powerful than just how it looks, and I’d rather be the person who can walk up four flights of stairs at the airport when the escalator is broken than the slim, tanned model on the billboard somewhere.”

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