Activity for the Mind and Body

Physical activity regardless of weight keeps mental and physical functioning at its best

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) An active body can keep the mind active. And an active mind stays on top of its game no matter how much a person weighs.

Findings of a new study revealed that being physically active benefited people's mental and physical functions, regardless of how much they weighed.

Because physical activity seems beneficial to physical and mental functions, the researchers recommended that programs and policies encourage physical activity regardless of people's weight.

"Keep your mind sharp with physical activity."

Researchers investigated how leisurely physical activity and body mass index (BMI) – a measure of height and weight combined – were linked with physical and mental functions over a period of several years.

The study, led by Vivian Lindholm, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, included more than 8,900 employees from the city of Helsinki in Finland between 2000 and 2007.

The employees, who were between 40 and 60 years of age, were divided into groups based on their levels of physical activity (inactive, moderately active and highly active) and weight (normal weight or overweight).

Researchers compared each group to the highly active normal weight participants and took into account each person's gender, age, smoking habits, alcohol use and other economic factors.

Participants reported how much time on average they spent engaging in leisurely physical activity or commuting physical activity each week over the last year.

Participants were also asked to estimate the intensity of their activity as compared to walking, brisk walking, jogging and running.

To measure physical and mental functioning, participants completed a questionnaire on their general health perceptions, social functioning, role limitations due to emotional and physical problems, body pain, vitality and their general physical and mental health.

At the start of the study, 48 percent of the participants were overweight and 11 percent were inactive.

The odds that inactivity was linked with poor physical functioning was more than 1.5 times higher among the normal weight group and about two times higher in the overweight group compared to the highly active normal weight group, researchers found.

Researchers also found that being overweight regardless of activity level was linked with poor physical functioning.

The odds of having poor mental functioning was about 1.4 times higher for inactive, overweight individuals compared to the odds of the active and normal-weight group.

"We found that both overweight and physical inactivity jointly contributed to poor physical functioning, although weight tended to dominate the association somewhat," researchers wrote in their report.

"Thus high physical activity at baseline may lead to better physical functioning at follow-up, both among those of normal weight and the overweight, whereas overweight contributes to poor physical functioning even among those who are highly active."

Jim Crowell, owner of Integrated Fitness and dailyRx Contributing Expert, said that there are many people who are in good shape but don't look like Hollywood movie stars.

"It is very important for everybody to get a lot of physical activity because not all health problems are visible," Crowell said.

"Fat can accumulate around 'skinny' people's internal organs where it doesn't show up as a soft stomach to the naked eye. Even if you are lucky enough to have skinny genetics it doesn't mean that you would be completely healthy without physical activity."

Researchers noted that BMI measures do not take muscle mass into account – an issue that may have skewed results. In addition, some of the participants may have overestimated how active they were and underestimated their weight.

The study, which was supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Academy of Finland and the Juho Vainio Foundation, was published March 6 in the journal BMC Public Health. The authors did not declare any competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 10, 2013
Last Updated:
March 29, 2013