We all love our sports, and great athletes come in all different shapes and sizes. From lean swimmers and long-distance runners to beefy football players and even sumo wrestlers, the notion that you can be obese but fit is an idea accepted by many as fact, but research recently published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology says otherwise.

An extensive study conducted in Spain, using data collected from more than half a million working adults, with an average age of 42 years, sought to understand just what an individual’s body mass index (BMI) means to the likelihood of suffering diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol in those that exercise versus those who are inactive.

On the positive side, the results appear to show that as physical activity increases, the chances of diabetes and hypertension lowers, illustrating a favorable link between working out and improving overall health. However, those individuals who were overweight or obese still suffered from a greater risk of negative cardiovascular outcomes as opposed to both active and inactive people within their normal weight range. The research also showed that active, but obese, people were twice as likely to have higher cholesterol than inactive but normal weight individuals. On top of that, they were four times more likely to develop diabetes, and five times more likely to suffer high blood pressure.

“This was the first nationwide analysis to show that being regularly active is not likely to eliminate the detrimental health effects of excess body fat,” said study author, Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University in Madrid. “Our findings refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight and obesity”. The findings mean that although exercise will improve the health of an individual regardless of their weight, it is not possible to ignore excess body fat as a risk factor and try to compensate for it by becoming more active. The risk to health associated with obesity cannot be cancelled out.

“Fighting obesity and inactivity is equally important; it should be a joint battle. Weight loss should remain a primary target for health policies together with promoting active lifestyles,” said Dr. Lucia. “One cannot be ‘fat but healthy.'”

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