Being fat but healthy is a myth, says a new study by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology. Staying active can counteract the negative effects of obesity is another false belief as overweight people who exercise regularly still suffer from poorer heart health, they say.

The recent notion that weight has less bearing on overall health advocated by the body positivity movement seeking to end the stigma surrounding obese people. In a fresh analysis of cases of more than 520,000 adults, it was found that exercise helps to reduce the odds of developing hypertension and diabetes, but still being overweight remains significantly a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Compared to inactive normal weight people, those who are active and obese are still twice as likely to have high cholesterol, making them prone to diabetes and high blood pressure by four times, said the study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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"One cannot be fat but healthy," declared Dr. Alejandro Lucia from the European University of Madrid. "This was the first nationwide analysis to show that being regularly active is not likely to eliminate the detrimental health effects of excess body fat. Our findings refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight and obesity."

Is 'fat but fit' really the same as 'thin but unfit'

The research team found some evidence that fitness might reduce the impact of excess body weight on heart, which led to the debate over whether "fat but fit" might be same as being "thin but unfit." Dr Lucia says, "This has led to controversial proposals for health policies to prioritize physical activity and fitness above weight loss. Our study sought to clarify the links between activity, body weight, and heart health,"

The researchers studied 527,662 working adults insured by a firm in Spain. They divided the participants into three weight groups -- with 42 percent in the "normal weight" category, 41 percent in the "overweight" group, and 18 percent classified as "obese."

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The average age of them was 42 years and one third of them were women. To determine if they were getting enough exercise, researchers used World Health Organization guidelines of 150 minutes per week of walking or at least 75 minutes per week of more vigorous activities like jogging.

Study authors further grouped participants by activity level -- as "regularly active," "insufficiently active," or "inactive." While the positive health effects of exercise are undeniable, the risks of being overweight or obese are not ruled out, said the study.

"More activity is better, so walking 30 minutes per day is better than walking 15 minutes a day," Dr. Lucia recommends. "Fighting obesity and inactivity is equally important; it should be a joint battle. Weight loss should remain a primary target for health policies together with promoting active lifestyles," the researcher concludes.