How many times have you started a new diet just to abandon it days later? I've done that a ton of times (no pun intended). Despite attempts to shed pounds, many people aren't successful with dieting and obesity continues to be on the rise worldwide.

But a study by researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Virginia found that when it comes to overall health, being fit is more important than what the numbers say when you step on the scale. The fit versus fat debate has been going on for a while, and this new data supports the benefits of moving more.

“We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” says Dr. Glenn Gaesser, an exercise physiologist at ASU. “We realize that in a weight-obsessed culture, it may be challenging for programs that are not focused on weight loss to gain traction. We’re not necessarily against weight loss; we just think that it shouldn’t be the primary criterion for judging the success of a lifestyle intervention program.”

The study authors say a fitness focused approach is important because weight-loss is associated with physiological changes that can make losing pounds difficult.

Obesity is associated with many health issues, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, joint problems, diabetes and some cancers. But yo-yo dieting can be bad too, as it's associated with fatty liver disease, diabetes and muscle loss. Not to mention the frustration and stress that may result from repeatedly losing and gaining weight. The researchers say that focusing on fitness instead of losing weight may help people get the benefits of exercise without the risks of yo-yo dieting.

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How much should you exercise? They say public health guidelines recommend 2 1/2 - 5 hours a week of moderate intensity activity, such as walking, or 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours per week of vigorous exercise, such as jogging. But, the authors of this paper say that any exercise is good. They just want people to get off the couch and start moving more instead of obsessing over their next meal's calorie count.

The study is published in the journal iScience.

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