Can overweight runners still be healthy?

Here is a question from Tracy Ann:

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?


Hi Tracey Ann,

Your question raises some interesting points that are not often discussed in health and fitness forums so I’d like to take a moment to make a few points. But before I do, I wanted to say that if ever anyone suggests that you “give up food” you should not be seeking any kind of advice from that person. 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 “in shape overweight runners”.  First off, when a person begins an aerobic exercise program -such as the walk/run program you’ve recently started- their cardiovascular system is the first to develop. In a matter of weeks you will see that your resting heart rate is decreasing which means that your heart (a muscle itself) is getting stronger and more efficient, so it can pump more blood with each beat. So, long before you see the 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 a person is not exercising the right way, or as you alluded to, 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 okay 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.

So, 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.

Thank you,

Michael Andrew