Can you be considered healthy if you're overweight (which is what experts call you if your body mass index—or BMI—is between 25 and 29.9)?

In the past, some experts said that if you have normal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, and don't have type 2 diabetes, you can be considered "metabolically healthy"—no matter what you weigh.

But new research is throwing a little cold water on that rosy view.

While a good diet and fitness regimen can have a positive impact on your health, "simply being overweight increases your risk for cardiovascular disease in particular," says Judith Regensteiner, Ph.D., a professor of medicine and founder and director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. "The more overweight you are, the greater your risk for this as well as other health problems.”

What the Newer Research Reveals

There's little doubt that those who are classified as "obese" (a BMI of 30 or higher) are at an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and more.

"Previous studies have pretty much dismantled the 'healthy obesity' idea," says David Carslake, Ph.D., a senior research associate in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol Medical School in England.

Now, several recent studies have found that being even moderately overweight can boost the likelihood of health problems, even in people with healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

more on exercise and healthy eating

Notably, a five-and-a-half-year study that examined the health records of 3.5 million people in the UK found that overweight but metabolically healthy people still had a 30 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) than their normal-weight peers. Normal is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.5.

This shows that “excess weight is a metabolic problem in and of itself,” says Neil Thomas, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and research methods at the University of Birmingham in England, who led the research. 

Keep in mind, though, that all studies have their limitations. For instance, the UK study didn't explore the effects of diet and activity level on health risks.

The Fitness and Food Factors

Getting plenty of regular exercise may help counteract some of the negatives of being overweight. Studies suggest that people who are active—meaning their bodies can efficiently use oxygen, whether it's during exercise or cleaning the house—tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and many cancers.

Take, for instance, a September PLOS One study that looked at more than 8,000 Korean men and women. The researchers found that metabolically healthy but overweight adults who got at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity had no significantly greater risk of CVD than normal-weight study volunteers.

Another PLOS One study, published last month, found that being fit may help people at any BMI reduce inflammation and abdominal fat. (Both have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other health issues.)

To help reduce disease risk and improve health, the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, plus two strength-training and flexibility sessions per week.

To lose weight, aim for at least 300 weekly minutes of physical activity. And don't skip the strength-training. Muscle not only burns more calories than fat but it also can help reduce your chances of developing insulin resistance and prediabetes.

When it comes to eating—whether you are trying to lose weight or not—healthy strategies include being careful about portion sizes, cutting down on empty-calorie foods such as sugary drinks and desserts, adding lean protein and healthy fats to boost satiety, and bulking up your plate with more vegetables

Make sure you get plenty of fiber, too. Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans, have been linked with a reduced risk of CVD, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, and may help with weight loss. The recommended daily intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (the amount in 2 and 3 cups of cooked red kidney beans, respectively).

Smart Steps If You Want to Lose Weight

Wherever that number on the scale falls, you can reduce your health risks and strive to lose excess pounds in a healthy way. In addition to eating right and exercising regularly, our experts advise the following: 

Know your BMI and waist measurement. You can use your BMI along with your waist circumference to get a pretty clear idea of where you stand, weight-wise. To measure your waist properly, put the measuring tape around your waist about an inch above your belly button. See this visual on how to measure waist circumference; if you're unsure, ask your doctor to measure. 

If you’re in the overweight BMI range and the number on the tape is greater than 35 inches (for women) or 40 inches (for men), your risk of health problems is higher, especially if you’re inactive. (In this case, work with your doctor to set healthy weight-loss goals.)

Aim to lose slowly but steadily. A 2017 study in the journal Obesity found that people who lost consistent amounts of weight each week during the initial stages of a weight-loss program tended to keep it off at the one- and two-year marks more effectively than those whose losses fluctuated weekly.

One to two pounds a week is a reasonable goal for healthy weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

And keep in mind that it may not take a lot of weight loss to reduce health risks. For example, if you’re overweight and have been told you have prediabetes, the long-term Diabetes Prevention Program found that shedding just 7 percent of your body weight may prevent or delay the onset of full-blown type 2 diabetes.

Weigh yourself regularly. People who weighed themselves every day lost almost three times as much weight and adopted more weight-control behaviors than those who stepped on the scale less frequently, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Talk to your doctor. If you need help figuring out what foods to eat, your doctor can refer you to a dietitian.