Can Overweight Runners Still Be Healthy?

Q: I've started a walk/run program and I am 45 pounds overweight. It's going great and I enjoy it a lot. However, I don't want to give up eating at this time.

My question is: Are there "in-shape" overweight runners? For instance, people who swim long distance in cold water have quite a bit of fat to stay warm, but they're obviously in good health.

What do you think?

Tracey Ann

A: Tracey Ann, your question raises some interesting points that are not often discussed in health and fitness forums.

First of all, eating healthfully does not mean that you have to "give up food". Yes, it may be necessary to cut back on certain unhealthy foods, but a balanced diet consisting primarily of healthful food choices is optimal for everyone, no matter what their fitness goals are.

Now let's look at your question about overweight runners.  When a person begins an aerobic exercise program such as the walk/run program you've recently started, his/her cardiovascular system is the first to develop.

In a matter of weeks, you may notice your resting heart rate decreasing, which means that your heart (a muscle itself) is getting stronger and more efficient. Long before you see excess body fat disappear, you'll become the "in-shape runner" you were asking about.

Fat burning can be the result of exercise, but as many frustrated exercisers know, it's not an automatic result. If people are not exercising the right way, or if they're not eating properly, fat loss simply won't happen. That's why a goal-oriented exercise plan and a healthful nutrition plan are so important to losing weight.

You also seem to be suggesting that it's OK or even preferable for some athletes to carry some excess body fat. This may be true in some circumstances, but for runners the excess weight can cause undue stress on joints, which can lead to injury. Moreover, those who carry body fat in their torso are believed to be at higher risk of heart disease.

Although it is possible to have a strong cardiovascular system while also carrying excess body fat, your overall health is best served when body fat percentage is within the recommended range. Use this body fat calculator to determine your range.

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Michael Andrew is a personal trainer and provides personalized online training plans at

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