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What's Healthier: Being "Fit but Fat" or "Skinny Fat"?

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Is it healthier to be "fit but fat" or "skinny and not work out"? It's perhaps the debate of the century. And new research says, "Hell yes, build those muscles!"

Turns out, people with higher muscle mass have a lower risk of death and heart disease, regardless of how much body fat they have, according to the study published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

To test this, researchers divided 6,400 people into four categories: low muscle/low fat mass ("skinny fat"), low muscle/high fat mass ("fat"), high muscle/low fat mass ("athletic"), and high muscle/high fat mass ("fit and fat"). Unsurprisingly, those in the "athletic" group had the lowest risk of death and the best heart health. But the "fit and fat" group came in a close second, far ahead of the "skinny fat" or "fat" groups when it came to health.

"Regardless of a person's level of fat mass, a higher level of muscle mass helps reduce the risk of death, [...] highlighting the importance of maintaining muscle mass, rather than focusing on weight loss, in order to prolong life," the researchers wrote, adding that people should be actively encouraged to focus on lifting weights over weight loss.

This finding is especially noteworthy for women, as many of us fear that lifting weights will just make us look "bigger," especially if we are carrying extra weight. So we avoid doing exercises that will make us stronger. But while moderate fat loss does improve your health, this study shows that getting fitter may deliver even bigger results. Here are 9 Reasons Every Woman Should Lift Weights.