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Exercise and diet are both key to good health, but a recent review examining the relationship between the two and longevity found that exercise, not weight loss, is “consistently associated with lower mortality risk.”

Published in iScience in 2021, the review, which examined hundreds of previous studies, notes that “the increased prevalence of weight-loss attempts in the United States has coincided with the increased prevalence of obesity.”

“Many obesity-related health conditions are more likely attributable to low physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness rather than obesity per se,” conclude authors Glenn Gaesser, PhD, of Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, and Siddhartha Angadi, PhD, of the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development.

They warn against what they view as an all-too-common focus solely on weight, which “has been paralleled by an increase in body-weight stigma, which in turn is associated with many adverse health outcomes, including higher risk of all-cause mortality.”

The review adds to growing evidence that “healthy” is less about losing weight than it is about being active.

“We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” says Gaesser. “We realize that in a weight-obsessed culture, it may be challenging for programs that are not focused on weight loss to gain traction.”

This article originally appeared as “Exercise Is More Important Than Weight Loss For a Longer Life” in the May 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Michael Dregni

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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