Fitness Can Offset Fatness In New Federal Standards, Says The American Council On Exercise

Posted: Jun 15, 1998 in

SAN DIEGO - To all the Americans newly deemed obese by the latest guidelines announced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Council on Exercise (ACE) sends this message: Don’t panic.

Moreover: Don’t give up.

"The good news is that you can have a high body mass index (BMI - a relative measure of body height to body weight) and can actually be healthier than someone who is thin but sedentary," says Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist with ACE.

Cotton explains that since BMI uses total body weight (not separate estimates of fat and lean body mass) in the calculation, it does not discriminate between the over-fat and the athletic, more muscular body type. Therefore, he says, the percentage of fat mass and muscle mass should be taken into consideration when evaluating one’s BMI. Waist circumference and a person’s risk factors for disease are also considered in the new federal assessment.

"The well-muscled and conditioned person with a high BMI will have a lesser health risk than the over-fat person with the same BMI," says Ross Andersen, Ph.D., an ACE board member and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

"Research consistently shows that you can reduce health risk factors and build important muscle with regular exercise even if you don’t lose weight," adds Cotton.

Therefore, says ACE, keep on movin.'

Don’t get stuck on where your weight is supposed to be or on your BMI score, says Cotton. (As calculated in the NIH report, "‘overweight’ is defined as a BMI of 25 - 29.9 and obesity as a BMI of 30-plus. For instance, a BMI of 30 is about 30 pounds overweight and equivalent to 22l pounds in a 6’ person, or l86 pounds in someone 5’6".") Concentrate instead on building the good habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle, says Cotton. For weight loss, this means undertaking some form of physical activity four to five times a week, for 45 minutes at a time.

"Even minimal increases in activity (like walking instead of riding) can bolster calorie burning," adds Andersen. "A shortcoming of dieting in the absence of exercise is that when weight is lost, it’s usually muscle as well as fat. As much as 25 percent of weight lost by dieting alone is lean body mass. When dieting is combined with exercise, chances are greater you’ll lose more fat and less muscle."

Bottom line? Don’t gauge your success by the BMI chart alone. Since BMI is only a rough indicator of body composition, ask a qualified fitness professional to help determine whether you’re truly too fat.

Finally, says Cotton, "Accept yourself. If you weren’t in the ‘preferred’ genetic line when they were handing out body types, you may never reach your ‘goal’ of looking like Kate Moss or Mark McGwire when you naturally carry a little extra fat, but you can still be optimally healthy."

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s "workout watchdog," ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at

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