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While being overweight or obese is not typically ideal for health, the notion that simply being heavy will diminish our health status is not accurate. Research shows us it is a lack of physical activity that has increased the amount of chronic disease in our society. According to the Lancet Special Report on Physical Activity (2012): “In view of the prevalence, global reach, and health effect of physical inactivity, the issue should be appropriately described as pandemic, with far reaching health, economic, environmental, and social consequences.”
Now I understand how difficult it can be to shift focus from weight and appearance to health and fitness. I grew up overweight (at my heaviest I was 210lbs at 5’7”), and as I began to take control of my health I became obsessed with weighing myself. When the scale didn’t move as fast as I thought it should, I exercised more and ate less. There was a time when I would only drink juice from my juicer, my life was a series of panic attacks and my health was declining. I had very little muscle mass, which is very out of character for me. I found a therapist and worked through my body image issues, and it is only now, six years later, that I feel like I have a healthy relationship with food, exercise and my self-perception. My self-worth is not tied to my weight, and my health is more important than my pant size. It has taken me a lifetime to realize this!
From a psychological standpoint, we know that when we focus on the numbers we see on a scale, and those numbers are not changing the way we want them to, the likelihood of us remaining physically active is low. We are seeing low adherence to a healthy diet and exercise in people who gauge success with numbers representative of their weight.
While it is ideal to be of a healthy weight and eating well, exercising and being physically active, there are still substantial health benefits to a person who is overweight/obese with those same behaviours.
By achieving a healthy lifestyle (exercise, physical activity, health eating habits), even if you remain overweight/obese you are still:
increasing your muscular and aerobic capacities to ensure you remain as physically independent for as long as possible;
dilating your blood vessels to decrease hypertension and significantly reduce the risk of blockages (ie heart attack and stroke);
maintaining a healthy digestive system and efficient physiological processes to decrease the risk of some cancers (studies suggest 90 to 95 per cent of cancers are linked to environment and lifestyle) (CSEP);
decreasing stress levels and risk of depression;
Therefore, it is important to have perspective and to prioritize your health and future over physical appearance/weight. Our society places an unhealthy emphasis on our weight, and as difficult as it is to block these messages it out, doing so can save your life.
Create goals related to fitness and health, not weight loss. For example:
Obtain a pedometer or a physical activity tracking device. This will help you ensure that you are achieving at least 10,000 steps a day and therefore decreasing your sedentary time.
Create strength goals every four weeks to continually improve your fitness (ex. in weeks one to four strive to squat with no weight 15 times, then in weeks four to eight strive to squat holding 15 pounds 15 times)
Find a long term fitness goal that challenges and excites you, then create short term goals that will ensure your success. For instance, you may decide you want to be able to walk five kilometers in 40 minutes five months from now. You will have to create deadlines for yourself along the way to ensure that when five months is up, you are capable of your goal.
Create lifestyle goals. Do you sit on the couch all evening after work? Give yourself tasks to complete that get you off the couch most nights of the week.
Identify what makes you happy. Are you a social person or do you prefer to work independently? Are you able to create a schedule and stick to it, or do you need to be accountable to someone else? Create goals in environments that make you happy.
In the end, if you need help creating goals or executing a plan then get help. This is your life we are talking about, and you are worth every effort it takes to keep you alive and well as long as possible!
Please refer to the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology’s Guidelines for healthy aging (for every age) to ensure you an your family are active enough to achieve health benefits