Is fitness more important than weight?

Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for overall health, fitness was more important than fatness. This means that even if you are carrying a few extra pounds, taking the steps to get fit will benefit your overall health more than losing weight but remaining sedentary. That's why diets alone are not as good as watching what you eat while getting fit.

Research has shown that when you initially go from sedentary to active, you do not experience significantly higher dietary energy requirements during the first few months of aerobic or resistance training. The more fat you burn as energy, the leaner you will be. This works in your favor since muscle burns more energy just to live than fat does, as discussed above. Pound for pound, the leaner you are, the more energy you burn.

Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

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Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

It's one of the undeniable facts of life. After we reach a certain age, our bodies change. No matter how fit we may have been at 20, we're very different people after 40. But growing older doesn't...

Society deems fitness and ideal shape as something that is not attainable for most people. Society puts an enormous pressure on people to live up to a weight and shape that is just not realistic for most people.

I have seen some of the most unhealthy people who are very skinny and I have seen some of the most in shape and healthiest people who may be overweight according to charts and society.

If your blood tests, conditioning, strength, bone and joints, blood pressure, cholesterol are all better than normal then it honestly does not matter were your weight is.

Most athletes you see have a bit of fat on them and I absolutely guarantee that they are healthier than most competitive bodybuilders who are ripped. Weight and fitness are relative but there is a point where it gets absurd. Keep yourself in a normal range for weight and body fat and do not let yourself go to the extreme, that is not healthy.

I will say both personally and professionally that fitness is more important than weight.

These 3 things help me to say this; 1. FACT: Muscle weighs more than fat. 2. FACT: The perception of weight as fat is wrong. Most perceive fat as weight, when fat is actually adipose tissue (loose connective tissue under the skin). 3. FACT: Being overweight and not fit for most animals and humans, depends not on body weight but on the amount of fat or adipose tissue on the body. Fat can be absorbed as fuel in the body as it is for athletes.  

Let's take 2 men, 220 lbs., six feet tall, many can look different and weigh the same based on how dense the muscle tissue is. Let's look at a 220 lbs. Athlete as compared to a 220 lbs. Office Worker. The Athlete will appear taller, their job is to move. The Office Worker will have poor posture from their job, sitting at a desk. The only way to equal this is to get the office worker to move. The human body is designed to move, not to stay stationary, fitness is key to wellness and wellbeing.

I must remind myself and everyone else that the main thing is to add exercise to your daily routine. LET'S MOVE!!! Walk at least 30 minutes each day and see the changes. You will be more fit and more energetic with each passing day. 

Note: Most will most likely gain muscle before you actually lose fat on a scale depending on your actual weight and fitness level, so weight is not entirely important in this perception. Body Fat and BMI are more accurate. See those questions and answers regarding how to get information and/or you can go to your doctor. 

Mona Tasca , NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but weight is only one measure of health. Staying active and eating properly is a great way to achieve overall fitness success. Also focusing only on weight can lead to disappointment and frustration. There are other factors to consider when it comes to your health, such as physical fitness level, inactivity, smoking, percent fat, fat distribution, blood pressure and cholestrol levels.

Overall, fitness is definitely more important than weight. Some elite athletes are considered overweight by their BMI score. Although weight can be one factor to consider, it is more important to focus on body composition and waist measurement when assessing one's health. When beginning a strength training program, it is common for the scale to not reflect the progress being made. The increase in muscle mass and fat loss are balancing each other out. However, taking body measurements and testing body fat can prove that positive changes are being made for one's health.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but it is still possible to be fit and active if you are carrying some extra weight. One problem with focusing exclusively on weight is that it does not tell the whole story. Some people might be in a healthy weight category, yet they may not be able to climb a flight of stairs or perform other simple every day tasks. We shouldn't automatically assume someone is physically fit or healthy just because they are not overweight.

At the same time, carrying excess weight increases your risk for several diseases so one should strive to achieve a healthy weight. Just don't get discouraged and think fitness can only be obtained if you have a six pack.

Troy Taylor, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

Fitness is considerably more important than weight. You can have a high body weight due to a larger volume of muscle for a person your age, height and sex or you can have a high body weight due to a larger volume of fat for a person your age, height and sex. Both are common and both are very different as it relates to your health. Weight is secondary to fitness.

Fitness is a multi-component state of being comprised of many variables and subjective definitions. Body weight can serve as a good measurement as ONE indicator to the effectiveness of your fitness program. If your goal is to lose weight and your scale weight is dropping, consider that number a success if you are losing FAT weight and maintaining muscle tissue. An effective method to know if you are losing fat or muscle is to have a fitness professional measure your body composition with skin-fold calipers. Once measurements are obtained, your fitness coach will be able to determine the amount of fat loss vs. lean muscle gain. Unfortunately, it is possible to lose weight that is not fat tissue by burning muscle tissue with ineffective nutrition. If that is the case, you must adjust your nutrition plan immediately. Low intake of nutrients and calories could be slowing down your metabolism even more by eating away at your calorie consuming muscle tissue and the chance of re-gaining the lost pounds increases dramatically!

Jara Soost , NASM Elite Trainer
Athletic Training Specialist

Fitness can be more important than the end resulting number. Because weight is the total of all the parts, it can be necessary to break it down and measure bodyfat percent and lean muscle mass. Muscle mass takes up much less space, but weighs more than fat. Sometimes when starting a program, you may notice that your body is changing and clothes fit better, but the scale is not changing much. This should be an indication that you are changing your bodyfat ratio. Also, it is important to measure the differences to make sure you are not losing muscle mass.  Its the lean muscle that burns calories, so you want to keep the muscle!

Fitness will always be more important than weight.  Weight is just a number and can show your fitness level in two ways. For example is you have a person who is 5'7 160 pounds and 30% body fat and the other person who is 5'7 160 pounds and 18% bodyfat. So their height and weight are the same but health wise one is fatter and more unhealthy. So you can't really look at weight as a way to measure how fit or healthy you are. There are so many more factors that get involved in fitness like meal planning, weight training and cardiovascular training. So just make sure you get evaluated regularly to see where you are at so you know you are improving.

Mike Allard, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

There is a lot more to health and wellness than just the number on the scale. Unfortunately, too many people become obsessed with weighing themselves. Weight is just one of the variables that determines overall fitness. In addition to tracking your weight (which should be done no more than once a week) you should also be tracking your circumference (girth) measurements, body fat percentage, how you feel, how you look, and the progress you have made in both cardiovascular and resistance training.

The problem with tracking just weight is that it is not all that great as an indicator of someone's health and fitness. People who weight more than they should (vs their height) can be in great health and phenomenal shape. Likewise, people who appear to be the perfect weight could have high body fat percentages and little lean muscle mass. The 'thinner' person is not always the healthier person.

So if you are a person who is obsessed with the scale, do whatever it takes to break this habit. Weight is going to fluctuate on a daily basis depending on water retention, environment, sleep patterns, hormones and many other variables. Don't subject yourself to an emotional rollercoaster by checking your weight every single day. Focus more of your energy on the other aspects of health and fitness and the weight will follow suit!

Obtaining optimal fitness is more important than obtaining optimal weight. Often, these two move in unison; as you become fitter, you are at an optimal weight, as you gain weight you are likely less fit. However, you can be fit and be classified as overweight, and you can have the appearance of being an appropriate weight and be unfit.  

Fitness is described as having a good health or physical condition secondary to exercise or nutrition. Optimal weight, however, does not mean you are in good health or in good physical condition; in fact, it is quite possible to be in poor health and poor physical condition even at an optimal weight. The best bet is to maintain a healthy diet and participate in regular physical activity. If you do, you will become physically fit and potentially obtain optimal weight.

Technically, yes, fitness is hugely important and you can carry a little extra weight and still be healthy and fit. The danger is in the definition of "a little extra weight."  A trainer means 5-10 lbs, not 50-100.

Don't read into these answers what you WANT to hear. Get it down to the numbers. If you are overweight/obese, lose weight. If you have crappy aerobic capacity, work on that. If you have zero upper body strength, work on that. Move away from vague terms like some, better, heavy, light - get to the numbers.

I have literally had morbidly obese clients (and I'm not talking pro football players with low body fat) point to their biceps and say "I'm pretty fit - lot of muscle on me - so the scale registers high."  They were not, I repeat NOT, fit, healthy, or muscular. It was just part of the lie they had learned to tell themselves based partly on vague statements like "you can be fit and fat."

So, again, my antennae go up by the mere posing of this question. If you are asking, you probably are trying to avoid losing weight by clinging to a story you can tell yourself to make it ok. Face the numbers, all of them - weight, strength, body fat, etc. - and start making changes. Your body will respond and you'll stop looking for stories to tell yourself. :-)

Overall fitness is much more important than weight when you take into account the different body types. You have to measure your fitness by what your body can accomplish at your best weight. Remember there are 3 body types pear shaped, thin shaped, and muscular. The thin person may not function well with weight or muscle. The pear shape may not function is the change swings to the other types. You have to take into account how you feel in your best shape not what everyone else feels. At your natural shape if you can pass sub-maximal fitness test with ease then you are doing just fine. HAVE CONFIDENCE!!!!

Clyde Mealy
Fitness Specialist

Fitness is important but weight depending on where you carry it can be an issue. Typically, having additional weight (body fat) around the abdominals  can be unhealthy which can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic health issues. I hope this helps and have fun!

There will be a time when fitness is more important than weight. Our weight is what triggers most lifestyle changing journeys. However, once you start your exercise and nutrition program the scale is not the best source to use to judge your progress. Take body composition measurements, take your body fat % and determine your BMI (body mass index) use this information to judge your fitness level, not the scale. There will be times when the scale does not move, but you have lost inches or body fat, that is the ultimate goal. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.