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Study finds that exercise is more important than weight loss for a long, healthy life

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We know that a focus on weight loss can be harmful to our mental health, but new research suggests it could be doing more bad than good for our physical health too.

So many women have a negative relationship with health and fitness thanks to harmful ideas about weight loss and body image that they have internalised. But new research shows that an intense focus on weight loss when it comes to keeping fit is not only bad for your mental health, but relatively unhelpful when it comes to physical health too.

The study, published in iScience, suggests that a weight-neutral approach to treating obesity-related health conditions may be as, or more, effective than a weight-loss centred approach. It found that exercise and increased fitness could lower the risk of premature death for obese men and women by up to 30%, even if they didn’t lose weight. This is big news for the body positivity movement within fitness, especially coming after Pinterest’s move to ban weight-loss adverts earlier this year.

Looking at the prevalence of weight loss attempts across society – a worldwide study of over 1 million adults suggests that 42% of the general population want to lose weight – the research found that cases of obesity have only grown with increased weight loss attempts since the late 1980s. In fact, it states: “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.”

Weight cycling is the process of continuously losing and regaining weight, which the research suggests can be a significant problem with a weight loss-centred approach to health and fitness. “The risks associated with weight cycling are very much the same as those associated with obesity,” researchers write, adding that “a focus on increasing physical activity without a specific weight loss goal may reduce prevalence weight cycling.”

The study concludes that exercise is the most effective way to lower the risk of premature death. It also notes that finding ways to maintain a physically active lifestyle may be more feasible than maintaining weight loss.

Discovering ways to exercise that you enjoy and suit your lifestyle is an incredible way to make movement a habit. Whether that’s running, lifting weights, maybe even dancing or skipping, there are so many forms of exercise out there for you to try. And if you can disconnect the idea of exercising from any toxic behaviours or ideas you have learnt about weight loss, it could potentially revolutionise the way you move your body.

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