Playing sports or being athletic doesn’t always translate into being healthy.

Today’s post, written by Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, Surgical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, was adapted from an article that originally appeared on  A Nation in Motion, sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Are bigger athletes stronger? Are thinner athletes faster? Not necessarily – different body types provide advantages in different sports. Contact athletes, such as football linemen, are often bigger compared to endurance athletes, such as cross country runners, who may be leaner. Unfortunately, neither extreme may be healthy. Being too lean or too overweight can result in health problems. Athletes need to supply the appropriate amount of energy and nutrition their body needs for their particular sport to achieve optimal health and performance.

Gaining weight does not equate to becoming stronger. Excess body weight can lead to increased blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and possible bone problems. Overweight athletes are at increased risk of injury to their muscles, bones, and joints, and their hearts have to work harder to keep blood flowing.

In contrast, being thinner does not equate to being more fit. These athletes are at higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries, such as stress fractures, as well as strains on the cardiovascular system. Female athletes who do not eat enough will have problems associated with “the female athlete triad” – low energy availability, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods), and low bone mineral density.

In closing, playing sports or being athletic doesn’t translate into being healthy. Conditions such as heat intolerance, high blood pressure, diabetes, increased stress to joints, and earlier arthritis also can affect you regardless of your fitness level.

Being “fit” means being athletic, but at a weight that is appropriate for your size and sport. It also means giving your body the proper nutrition it needs. So, eat healthy and stay active, and you, too, can be fit.

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