Focus on Fitness Not Fatness


In this episode, we cover how we should all focus on fitness rather than fatness. All too often fatness is frowned upon and blamed for a lot of health conditions. But really what the research is showing is that fitness is a far better predictor of ill health than fatness. Yes, you can be fit and fat, and you can certainly be thin, unfit and equally unhealthy.

We will give you practical exercise hacks on how to fix this problem. Don’t forget to head over to iTunes and rate with show when you get a chance or leave a comment below.

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Transcript summary

3.24 Fitness, not fatness is a public message that should be gaining popularity, but unfortunately it isn’t. It’s better to be fit and fat, then thin and unfit

3.54 In our society, thinness is often portrayed as healthier and fatness a death sentence. As always on todays show we are going to prove otherwise.

4.25 At present population health messages are always around weight loss, which does have its merits, buts it’s not the most useful or pragmatic way to improve health. We know how hard it is to initially lose weight and equally harder keep weight off. To me, as a health professional weight loss campaigns often seem redundant, and we know they’re ineffective.

4.48 I believe a more pragmatic view to tackle obesity and health, is to talk about fitness not fatness. We can get health benefits from exercise that decreases the risk of disability and death without losing weight. We can help people live a longer better quality of life by merely exercising.

5.10 We need to start looking at proven effective methods to help individuals get healthy, without the routine fat stigma that plagues most public health messages. Being fit should be the number one health concern for people who are overweight, because it will save their life. Weight loss, is often a futile exercise should be a second priority.

6.54 It’s estimated that 56% of Australian adults are either inactive or have low levels of physical activity- that’s is more than 9.5 million adults. Source That’s a lot of Australians at risk of poor health.

How do you define fitness?

9.42 Fitness is a combination of aerobic or cardiovascular fitness, body composition, and muscular fitness for example strength and endurance to perform activities. [1]

10.46 So you can say it’s a holistic view of how your body functions. It considers the strength of your heart, lungs and muscles and your ability to perform those activities for a certain duration and varying intensities.

11.04 Fitness is also a term people use to describe overall health. In a lot of the studies I am referring to today they are more about cardiovascular (heart) health and muscular fitness.

Can you be fit and fat?

11.51 In a 2009 study researchers looked at the impact of physical inactivity on different weight classes. They found that groups with the lowest fitness levels had the highest risk of cardiovascular death at all BMI’s. [2]

12.44 In this study they looked at groups of people from BMI’s 18.5 to 35. The weight classes are BMI 18-24.9 is considered healthy, 25-29.9 overweight and 30+ is obese.

13.19 People in the healthy weight range who had the lowest levels of fitness had the same risk of death as overweight and obese individuals. Obese and overweight individuals who were moderate to highly fit had a decreased risk of death. Their health risk was the same as their healthy weight peers.

13.54 What this study is saying, is that you can be fit at any body weight and that fitness is heart protective at any level of body fat. You can be fit and fat.

14.04 The worst possible combination for health is being obese and unfit. That increases your risk of all-cause mortality 3-fold. [3]

15.10 All cause mortality just means death ie it increases your risk of death by everything ie cancer, heart disease and diabetes etc.

15.29 You can safely say that being unfit is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality and is of the same importance as diabetes, and other cardiovascular risk factors like; smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. [3] Meaning, being unfit is just as dangerous as smoking!

Is being sedentary bad for my heart?

16.33 Sitting on your backside for long periods of time if you’re fat or thin is bad for your overall health and heart. In the USA studies have shown that adults spend more than half their waking life sedentary.[4]

17.09 In a study, they looked at 930 men between ages of 23-82years. Researchers looked at their overall activity levels, body weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and fitness. They followed this group over the course of 6-9years.

17.29 They found when controlling for all variables, being sedentary is an independent risk factor to general cardiovascular fitness. Middle-aged men with the highest sedentary behaviour had double the risk, 65-75% higher risk, of developing metabolic syndrome than men who were less sedentary. [4]

18.07 Metabolic syndrome is a cluster condition that involves having a combination of excess weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance (pre diabetes). It can later lead to cardiovascular disease and or type 2 diabetes. Being sedentary is not only bad for your heart; it will also increase your chances of developing diabetes.

19.29 So you can be fit at any weight, but if you spend most of your day sitting you will still have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Again this is despite how much you weigh. If you’re fat or thin and you sit for most of the day, you’re putting your health at risk.

19.52 The recommendation for reducing these disastrous effects due to inactivity is to get up every 45-60minutes to perform at least 2-5minutes of low-level activity. For example, if you’re an office worker:

  • Get up and walk around the office
  • Have a stretch at your desk
  • Walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water 

Can I still get fit if I am old?

21.24 Your body can improve in fitness at any age. Muscle, including heart muscle has the ability to improve and get stronger even when you are above the age of 65years old.

21.49 It’s a common thing for older people to slow down and do less as they get older, but we should be encouraging the opposite. Research has shown that fitness is very important if we want older people to stay independent and live long happy lives.

22.46 A lack of fitness below a threshold of VO2 18ml/kg/min in men and 15 in women, showed lower independence. [5]

By getting older people to get involved in an aerobic fitness program they can slow or reverse the deterioration of their muscles and organs and reduce biological age by 10 or more years.

11.40 These days on average a 65 year old person now has an additional 12.7years of a healthily life. They will be disability free until the age of 77.7. Fit 65years on average can expect 5.7 years of healthy life expectancy and will remain disability free until 83.4years old. [5]

What’s the best way to get fitter?

24.44 Start with the easiest bit first; decrease your sedentary time. This means reducing screen time, which includes time in front of the:

  • TV
  • Computer
  • Video games
  • iPad
  • Phone

Instead do those odd jobs you have been planning to do for a while, play with the dog, clean the house or go and exercise.

25.54 If you have a sedentary job it’s a little harder, but you can think about;

  • Setting an alarm so you get up from your desk every hour
  • Go for a walk on your lunch breaks
  • Stand up and stretch

27.27 As for fitness, there’s multiple ways on getting fit. Primarily, I always ask the person is there any activity they would like to do?

Do they enjoy being outdoors or in the garden? Basically anything that’s strenuous and gets you out of breath can make you fitter. It doesn’t have to cost you anything either for example;

  • Brisk walking or jogging around the neighbourhood.
  • Joining a dance class
  • Joining a gym
  • Gardening outside
  • Swimming

HITT is a proven method to get fit fast in the least amount of time

29.17 Now if you’re looking for a more medical approach a lot of research studies have looked at fitness protocols involving HIIT (high intensity interval training) because you can do it in a short period of time with maximal health benefits.

29.37 In a 2016 study, they compared HIIT training with isocaloric continuous moderate intensity training. Isocaloric, means its energy matched.

29.59 In this case, they all exercised on a bike to reach an energy burn of 250kcal per session. One group pedalled continuously on the bike for 32minutes, the normal HIIT group did intervals for 20minutes and they had a third group of HIIT than did half the amount, so 125kcal for 10minutes.

30.29 All groups lead to similar improvements in body weight and composition (lean muscle mass improvement, less body fat), increased insulin sensitivity, and improved cardiovascular fitness. [6]

30.47 This is surprising because the 10min HIIT group did only half the calories and half the time and still got the same results.

31.00 Some of the common HIIT protocols people use are; 4minutes hard work, hitting 90% of your maximum heart rate threshold by the 4th minute with 3minute active rest like walking or jogging. The workout might look like something like this:

  • Warm up 10min
  • Interval 1-2 minutes to reach 90-90% max heart rate (4 minutes total)
  • Rest 3minutes of active recovery
  • Repeat interval 4x
  • Cool down 5minutes

YouTube 4×4 interval training


  1. Shannon J. FitzGerald, C.E.B., James B. Kampert, James R. Morrow Jr., Allen W. Jackson. , Muscular Fitness and All-Cause Mortality- Prospective Observation. University of South Carolina Scholar Commons, 2004.
  2. Blair, S.N., Physical inactivity: the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. Br J Sports Med, 2009. 43(1): p. 1-2.
  3. Wei, M., et al., Relationship between low cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality in normal-weight, overweight, and obese men. Jama, 1999. 282(16): p. 1547-53.
  4. Greer, A.E., et al., The effects of sedentary behavior on metabolic syndrome independent of physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness. J Phys Act Health, 2015. 12(1): p. 68-73.
  5. Shephard, R.J., Maximal oxygen intake and independence in old age. Br J Sports Med, 2009. 43(5): p. 342-6.
  6. Martins Catia, K.I., Ludviksen Marit, Mehus Ingar, Wisloff Ulrik, Kulseng Bard, Morgan Linda, King Neil, High-Intensity Interval Training and Isocaloric Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training Result in Similar Improvements in Body Composition and Fitness in Obese Individuals. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism. 26(3): p. 197.



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