New Study Finds Weight Loss May Not Actually Make You Healthier

by Madison Vanderberg
Luis Alvarez/Getty

New study points out that weight loss may not actually make you healthier, but exercise will

A new study is further proving that the body mass index (BMI) can throw itself off a cliff. Kidding! (Kind-of). A new study on the treatment of obesity has found that weight loss is not the greatest indicator of good health and that the best thing someone can do for their health is regular physical activity and exercise.

The research, published in the journal iScience, wanted to look into a “weight neutral” approach to treat obesity, focusing instead on the effects of exercise — both strength training and aerobic activities that benefit one’s heart health — as opposed to treatments that focus almost exclusively on weight loss — which is the current popular approach.

All signs point to exercise (over weight-loss) for a healthy life.

Researchers found that “many obesity-related health conditions are more likely attributable to low [exercise] rather than obesity per se.” The study also found that physical activity sometimes eliminates the increased mortality risk associated with obesity and found overall that increasing exercise is consistently associated with a greater reduction in risk of all types of death as compared to groups who focused only on weight loss. Also (also!) “improvements in major cardiometabolic risk markers with exercise training are comparable to those associated with weight loss typically achieved by caloric restriction.”

The point being, exercise is a greater indicator of health than weight alone. “We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” study researcher Glenn Gaesser, of the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University, said in a statement (via HuffPo).

The researchers were inspired to look into the benefits of exercise versus weight loss because the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. rose during the same period of time that the prevalence of dieting rose as well. This led researchers to wonder if dieting is all that helpful after all.

“The intense focus on weight loss has not prevented excessive weight gain in recent decades,” the study states. “Moreover, repeated weight loss efforts may contribute to weight gain, and is undoubtedly associated with the high prevalence of weight cycling, which is associated with significant health risks.”

So how much exercise is necessary, really?

Per The Huffington Post, “the CDC recommends that adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — as well as at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities.” The CDC states that walking your dog or vacuuming the home counts as “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” and gardening or pushing a stroller counts as “strengthening activities.”


“We’re not necessarily against weight loss,” Gaesser said. “We just think that it shouldn’t be the primary criterion for judging the success of a lifestyle intervention program.”