Health at Every Size advocates must be rejoicing over the recent New York Times article (brought to my attention by reader and former voice student Natalie) reporting on a spate of recent studies which seem to conclude that being fat and fit really is healthier than being lean and unfit.
Fat has so long been hailed as the nemesis of all things healthy, the gateway to diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a host of other ailments. So it's surprising and, in a way relieving, to read studies that are essentially saying, "All things being equal, fitness counts for more than fatness".
These studies reveal what doctors are calling the "obesity paradox": overweight patients who become ill with a host of ailments often associated with obesity actually have a better chance of surviving than thin patients with the same issues. Patients with heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart failure, and even diabetes all have a better chance of surviving the ravages of their illnesses if they are overweight.
The article quotes Glenn Gaesser, director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, as saying, "More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh. " Older, longterm studies such as the famous Framington Heart Study fail to take into account the fitness of patients and the amount of physical activity they engage in. Newer studies are showing that regular aerobic exercise decreases fat in the liver, which in turn reduces the strain on the metabolism.
So, while it's good news --- simply being fat doesn't mean you can't have a good level of fitness --- it shouldn't be used as an excuse to throw in the diet towel. Overweight does put extra strain on your body, especially your joints. You move more easily at a lighter weight. You may be less likely to develop some of the ailments associated with obesity.
It gives me hope, though, as I struggle through this next chapter in my fitness life, as I try to come to peace with my body and my feelings about my looks, which are as strongly influenced by the march of time (in hobnail boots across my face, thank you very much) as they are by the number on the scale or on my jeans. I work out almost every day. I am proud to have developed an exercise habit and to be in better shape than I was many birthdays ago.
When I get discouraged, I remember the words of my kickboxing instructor in Miami --- "You're STRONG." No, I wasn't as fast as the other women in the class. They left me in the dust when we jogged. I couldn't do as many burpees, and mine weren't elegant. But I could do them. I can do full-on push-ups. I can do jumping jacks. I can hold a plank.
Recently, I got an email from the director of the opera I'll be singing next --- Falstaff, with Opera Idaho. It's a madcap comedy featuring a quartet of women who get the better of all the bumbling men in their lives, and there's a lot of action. The director warned us that this will be a VERY active show, lots of running around --- and that's on top of singing at the top of your lungs. Opera is aerobic even if you aren't chasing madly about the stage. "Do your cardio before you get here, "he admonished us.
So I had a little laugh at that. Cardio? Bring it on. Racing all over the stage singing over 10 other soloists and an orchestra, while wearing a costume that weighs an extra 10-20 pounds, plus corset and heels? BRING IT.
I want to be slender and fit, but until I can be that, fat and fit it is.