Fat but Fit
In college students, physical fitness has most impact on some risk factors
College students who keep physically fit can bolster their protection against heart disease and diabetes, even if they carry a little extra weight.
Looking at data collected from 564 college students who enrolled in the Tufts Longitudinal Health Study, researchers at the Friedman School found physical fitness to have a greater impact on metabolic risk factors than body fat did.
Being fit—in this case, as measured through performance on a three-minute step test—was associated with lower triglycerides and higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the “good” cholesterol) in women and lower blood glucose levels in men, all of which point to a lower likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The results are published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
“Although cardiovascular disease and diabetes often surface much later in life, our results tell us that men and women in late adolescence and early adulthood are already showing chronic disease risk, but that keeping fit may help reduce this risk,” says senior author Jennifer M. Sacheck, N01, an assistant professor at the Friedman School. “Certain metabolic risk factors were closer to recommended levels in both male and female students whom we classified as fit, even if their body fat percentages were higher than desirable,” meaning above 23 percent in women and above 19 percent in men.
Although the students were a generally healthy sample, there was room for improvement. “Nearly 25 percent demonstrated low levels of HDL, one third demonstrated elevated LDL cholesterol levels, and 11 percent had high triglycerides, indicating it’s not premature to work on reducing chronic disease risk as a college student” through diet and exercise, Sacheck says. “Even walking to class instead of taking the campus shuttle bus is a start.”