Of course, no one thing is THE main factor or variable that accounts for something. However, just looking at the topic of waist fat or waist circumference, according to research by Dr. Lavie and others [and thousands of participants], People who have a larger waist size have been found to live longer and survive a heart attack, cancer, kidney disease and deadly infections. It seems that for some percentage of people, being overweight may actually have some protective factors.
One important question Dr. Lavie asks in his book The Obesity Paradox is "Could there be a genetic, evolutionary reason to be a little chubby when we're older and at greater risk for disease (and not beat ourselves up while trying to get down to what we think is an ideal weight"? (p. 15). I think that's a really good question. I do have concerns about the extreme focus that seems to be occurring in research on genetics because that in itself could lead to the sort of attitude like 'well, there's nothing I can do about it; it's just in my genes' and people could be defeatist and not attempt to make any lifestyle changes. But, it is also just as valuable to look at components such as genetics because this can give us a more balanced or rounded [pun intended] or inclusive idea of how the body works.
Dr. Lavie shares that in his practice and research, he noticed that "the people who fared the worst weren't just low in body fat, but they were low in muscle mass and cardio fitness, too. So, it's not only the presence of fat that helps us to live long past a horrible diagnosis of a chronic condition, but it's also the existence of what's called cardiorespiratory fitness. There's a great divide between being just fat and being fit and fat" (p. 15).
Dr. Lavie goes on to ask some other important questions that I'll also address in this blog post; for example, how much exercise is enough; is there such a thing as too much? Does running long distance or working out for long periods of time put too much strain on our hearts and actually reduce our longevity? What Dr. Lavie and others have discovered about fitness is that "We are not so much born to run as born to walk" (p. 16). So, just as too little exercise or too little fat may not lead to optimal health, so too could too much exercise or too much fat.
Here are some pieces of information, based on research, that I have found fascinating, and perhaps you will too:
- Diabetes patients of normal weight are twice as likely to die as those who are overweight or obese
- Heavier dialysis patients have a lower change of dying than those who are of normal weight or underweight
- Mild to moderate obesity poses no additional mortality risks to those already suffering from heart disease
- Being overweight is not related to increased mortality in the elderly
- Obesity can help someone with cancer or an infection such as HIV live longer
Do these issues sound counter-intuitive to you? They certainly do to me! I have a really hard time wrapping my mind around those bullet points above! And, this is one reason I'm reading Dr. Lavie's book; to learn more about these topics.
As Dr. Lavie points out: "A good paradox in science is a good problem to have if you're looking for the truth; it opens the door to new information" (p. 17). So, I'll be sharing more of this paradox with you as I learn more! :)