Why is fitness more important than weight loss?

Mr. Donovan Green
Athletic Training
Losing weight is a added bonus for vanity purposes. However, there is nothing better than being fit. Having a healthy, fit body is essential to daily functions such as carrying groceries, climbing stairs, taking the grandchildren for a walk or hanging out with your dog. Your body is your temple, and you should treat it as such. Your body will naturally get rid of excess fat once you put more emphasis on being fit and less on losing weight.
Dawn Marcus
Do you get discouraged when you start a new fitness program because you seem to be working hard and not losing the weight you’d like? Don’t despair -- a study in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that cardiorespiratory fitness but not weight alone was linked to long-term risk of death. In their study, women who had never had heart disease or diabetes were included in the study if they had an abnormal fasting blood sugar level. Over 3,000 women were included. Their level of cardiovascular fitness was tested using an exercise treadmill test, with women assigned into categories of low, moderate, or high fitness. At the start of the study, women had an average age of 47 years old. These women were then followed for 16 years. Risk for death during follow-up was 36% lower in the women in the moderate or high fitness groups compared with the low fitness group. Interestingly, baseline weight alone was not a predictor of death! Being overweight or obese and having low fitness resulted in over twice the risk of death compared with women who were of normal weight and at least moderately fit.

Take home messages:
  • Aerobic fitness reduces your risk of death by over 35%.
  • Aerobic fitness is a stronger predictor of longer life than weight
  • Being a couch potato -- overweight and aerobically unfit -- more  
           than doubles your risk of death.
Being physically fit versus just losing weight creates a more balanced life and a healthier body, mind and spirit.  When a person goes on a diet for the sole purpose of losing weight, more often than not the person eventually puts the weight back on.  If you focus more on getting physically fit by exercising and eating healthy foods,  it creates a ripple effect. Your body gets leaner and more toned because it's burning more calories.  Also, your brain functions better. You'll be more alert, have more energy and have a better outlook on life.

I am going to use the term I use many, many times; "It depends."

I think it can be argued that weight loss for some is probably more important.  For those that are massively obese and weight can put too much stress on joints, cause severe low back and knee issues as well as the weight and pressure that is put on organs then weight is the biggest consideration.

For those who are massively overweight, sometimes they do not have the ability to exercise and be very active until weight loss occurs.  The majority of the time fitness is more important than weight loss but for those with an extremely high BMI then weight loss can at times be more important.

For those massively overweight, getting weight off is the most important factor.  Once weight decreased the ability to move increases and fitness improves.  This is not always the case but I do not think it is fair to say that fitness is more important than weight loss because it just really depends on the situation.

For most; an improvement in cardiovascular conditioning, muscular strength and reduction in body fat is far more important than what the scale says.  But for those who are massively obese I would argue that reducing weight and gradually increasing fitness levels is the probably the key.

Also keep in mind that many of those who are massively overweight also have some sort of psychological issues that need to be dealt with as well.  I am not saying always but many times psychological issues need to be dealt with as well.

There is no doubt that exercise is king and is the biggest predictor to long term fitness success; however, for many they have to lose weight first before they move appropriately.

Fitness is more important than weight loss for several reasons.

  1. Fitness is a more comprehensive measurement. It encompasses flexibility, cardio training, strength and stress management as compared to weight loss which is a very narrow focus.
  2. Weight loss as a main focus can be very discouraging. While it can be an indicator of progress, muscle weighs more than fat, so as people start a workout routine, they often gain muscle and lose fat. If the muscle that is gained is greater than the fat lost, they scale may even show a slight increase
  3. Things like body fat percentage and circumference measurements or how clothes are fitting can be a much better indicator of positive health  changes.

For many, weight loss is a 'destination to be reached.' Often, we get caught up in the hype of quick fixes and fad diets without considering long term solutions. While weight loss is extremely important for your health, especially if you are struggling with obesity, it is important that your weight loss is sustainable and done in a healthy way. Sustainable weight loss does not happen overnight. By adopting and practicing healthy habits you will lose weight over time. These healthy habits are fitness.

Fitness is becoming physically active (and making good nutrition choices) until healthy habits become a lifestyle. Weight loss is simply a by-product of fitness! Keeping the weight off is the long-term effect of living a fit lifestyle.

Avoid the weight loss hype and false expectations. It will only end up sabotaging your health. Fitness first and the weight loss will follow!

Fitness has to do with your over all health, not just what the scale tells you. Just because a person is a normal weight, does not mean they are physically fit. Being thin does not make you healthy. Maintaining a healthy body fat percentage, improving your cardiorespiratory fitness, and strength training will improve your over all fitness while helping you with your weight loss. Proper nutrition is also a major component of any fitness program. A well rounded fitness program will improve your attitude, strengthen your immune system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your quality of life.

Fitness is more important than weight loss simply because optimal weight does not always mean optimal health. Often, these weight loss and fitness move in unison; as you become fitter,  you lose weight, as you gain weight you are likely less fit. However, you can be fit and be classified as overweight. In addition, you can have the appearance of being an appropriate weight and be unfit.  

Fitness is described as having 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 an optimal weight.    

Fitness is about strength (physical, respiratory and cardiovascular), agility, mobility, and flexibility. A person can be all those things and be overweight.

Some people who have the highest BMI are actually very fit, like body builders, heavy weight lifters and athletes.


Tony Horton

Many people work out because they want to lose weight and look better. In this video, fitness expert Tony Horton, creator of the P90X fitness program, explains why having such a narrow goal can backfire.


Continue Learning about Fitness

The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Being A Weekend Warrior
The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Being A Weekend Warrior
We all know regular exercise is a keystone to health. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate ...
Read More
What should I know about hiking?
Jane MilliffJane Milliff
“Hiking downhill is harder than going up– I’m always on guard and if there’s any scree, I slip.” say...
More Answers
5 Fun Summer Workouts
5 Fun Summer Workouts5 Fun Summer Workouts5 Fun Summer Workouts5 Fun Summer Workouts
Skip the gym and head outside for these fun, calorie-burning workouts.
Start Slideshow
How Can Exercising with a Friend or Partner Be Helpful?
How Can Exercising with a Friend or Partner Be Helpful?

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.