Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat determined by one’s height and weight. Measuring BMI is a quick and easy way for doctors, personal trainers and dietitians to estimate if a person is under, over, or at a “normal” weight. Under weight is considered a BMI less than 18.5 while overweight is greater than 25. A “normal” BMI ranges from 18.5-24.9. If under or over weight, a person is considered to be at risk for malnutrition and diseases such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and obesity. BMI has been used for many years but is starting to be questioned as it may not be the most accurate way to measure a person’s body fat composition. BMI measurements do not distinguish between body fat and muscle mass so a person with a large amount of muscle may be deemed “overweight” based on their BMI. Likewise, a person with little muscle may be considered “normal” or even “underweight” because their weight is low due to no muscle mass. The person considered “overweight” with more muscle is most likely healthier than the person who is “normal” or “underweight” with little to no muscle, but the BMI value does not suggest that. This is why other factors should be considered when determining a person’s overall state of health. So what other measurements can we rely on when gauging health? Let’s find out!
1. Measure your waist circumference: using a measuring tape to evaluate your waist size is an easy way to estimate the amount of abdominal fat. Fat accumulated around the midsection and organs (known as visceral fat) is of more concern than fat around the rear and thighs (subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is proven to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and stroke. It is also shown to increase the amount of dangerous inflammatory molecules in the body! Reducing central abdominal fat is a good way to increase overall health and longevity. Women should have a waist of less than 35 inches and men 40 inches.
2. Look at your lab values: Have a doctor check your blood pressure, blood glucose levels, resting heart rate, cholesterol levels and vitamin/mineral supplies. These laboratory values are a sneak peek into how your body is physiologically working from the inside! These values cannot be seen on the outside, however, they all have a major impact on one’s overall health! FYI, normal lab values look something like this:
3. Testing your VO2 Max: VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumed during incremental exercise (AKA- how much oxygen your body is using while working out). This value can tell you how physically fit your body is from the inside out! A higher VO2 max indicates that’s a person’s heart is able to pump a greater amount of blood with each beat and therefore can deliver more oxygen to working muscles. As one becomes more physically fit, their VO2 is expected to increase. A higher VO2 max has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia, depression and diabetes. Your activity level is the major determinate of your VO2 max, however, keep in mind that genetics and age play a role in one’s VO2 max as well. A sedentary person’s VO2 is on average about 45 ml/kg/min while an elite runner may have a VO2 of 70-85 ml/kg/min. If you are interested in getting your VO2 measured, you can check in with your local fitness center as many places offer VO2 treadmill testing!
4. Analyzing your diet: What you eat has a major impact on your body’s health! The USDA recommends eating 2-3 servings of fruits, 2-5 servings of vegetables, 6 ounces of grains, 5-7 ounces of protein and 3 cups of dairy per day for optimal health! They also advise keeping sodium under 2300 milligrams, saturated fat less than 22 grams and added sugar no more than 50 grams per day. Check in with your daily diet and see if you are meeting these goals! If not, consider making some adjustments to your eating habits. Also consider if you are eating the appropriate amount overall for your unique body! Are you eating to honor your hunger and stopping when you are full? Do you find yourself restricting or obsessing about certain foods? Or do you have a positive, all foods fits mentality? A healthy relationship with food is a great way to gauge your overall mental health which impact your body’s health state as well!
5. Considering your exercise routine: 60 minutes of physical movement per day is a great way to keep your body healthy! On a weekly basis, 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity is advised along with 2 or more full body weight workout. Regular activity helps not only control weight, but also improves mood, energy levels, sleep and productivity throughout the day! Exercise is proven to lower the risk of many illnesses and disease such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol. If you find it hard to make yourself go to the gym, then find another way to be active that you enjoy! Maybe it is a yoga class, spin class, free weight workout or lap swimming. It could even be a walk around the block or playing catch with the kids! Whatever way you find pleasure in moving your body is acceptable! The key is to find an activity you like so you will be motivated to keep doing it long term!
6. Taking into account your immunity: How often you get sick is a key indicator of how healthy your body is from the inside! If you are constantly catching the common cold or flu virus, you may want to consider strengthening your immune system. Our bodies have a system in place to help protect us from illness, but certain lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet or a sedentary routine, can decrease that defense. To increase your immune system you can: eat a nutrient rich diet (many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fats), exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, control your blood pressure, limit alcohol consumption, get adequate amounts of sleep each night, reduce stress and keep your body clean by washing your hands and body regularly.
7. Checking in with your mental state: How do you feel overall? Do you have energy or are you constantly fatigued? Are you happy and joyful or depressed and withdrawn? Is your mood stable or are you a roller coaster of emotions? Do you feel extreme stress, anxiety, panic, shame, guilt, or other negative emotions on a regular basis? If so, you may want to think about finding ways to improve your mental state! Checking in with your mental state is another good way to measure how your body’s health is doing overall. Health is more than just how your body looks on the outside but also how it is functioning physiologically and mentally on the inside! Your mental state has physical effects on the body! For example- for someone who is chronically stressed, their blood pressure will be higher which increases the risk of blood clots, heart disease and stroke. If you are struggling with any negative mentalities, I encourage you to reach out to someone! It could be a close friend, family member or maybe even a professional. No matter who it is, opening up to someone about your worries and daily challenges can help take a lot of stress and negativity off of you and will, in turn improve your overall health.
8. Assessing your social life: Who you surround yourself with on a day to day basis has a significant impact on your overall health! Research shows that having a close knit group of friends (emphasizing the quality not quantity) promotes good health. Friends increase one’s sense of belonging, happiness, self-confidence and self-worth. They can encourage healthy habits such as exercise and healthy eating, which you could do together! Good friends offer a solid support system for when one is struggling with normal challenges of life. It is proven that adults with strong social support have a decreased risk of health issues such as high blood pressure, depression and obesity and also have a longer life span than those with no close relationships. Engaging in social situations may be hard for some people and may take the backseat in life for busy, working individuals. However, making your social life a priority is a fun and easy way to improve your health! Some ideas to get involved with others include: volunteering, attending small groups through your local church, attending community events (clubs, bake sales, farmer’s markets, etc.), joining a gym and attending group fitness classes, reaching out to coworkers to go out to dinner or for a walk on the weekend!
9. Considering your sleep habits: A good night’s sleep has amazing benefits on the body! As an adult, we should aim for 6-8 hours per night. This amount of rest helps support healthy immune, respiratory, circulatory, digestive and neurological systems. I’m sure we all know the groggy feeling of too little sleep! You may have noticed decreased energy, increased moodiness and hunger during the following day. Long term- too little sleep can cause increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain/obesity, high blood pressure, and decreased overall immunity. People who lack sleep often are less productive, have poor memory and feel more depressed than individuals who sleep an adequate amount per night. Sleep is also the time when our bodies recover, physically and mentally, from the stressors of the day. If you are not allowing you body to rest and recover, then the body will continue “breaking down” until you are left completely drained! I encourage you to shoot for at least 6 hours of sleep tonight and see how you feel tomorrow. I guarantee you will have more energy and excitement for the day when you are well rested!
10. Recognizing your goals and purpose: We should all have goals in our lives that are beyond how our body looks or how much we weigh! However, society likes to tell us that having the “perfect” figure is the ultimate goal in life. By following this worldly set standard, we are only setting ourselves up for failure and pain. It is okay and normal to have goals to improve your health or weight- but please don’t make your body’s appearance your #1 goal and purpose in life! I encourage you to set goals for yourself that have nothing to do with how you look! Focus on your career, attitude, religion, relationships, family, volunteer services or any other selfless acts! Having goals that serve others is a great way to improve your own health and satisfaction in life! When we are working to help other, often we feel more purpose for our own lives. It is proven that reaching out to others increases one’s self-worth and feelings of belonging. Working for and with others helps to decrease one’s stress, anxiety and depression which in turn can decrease high blood pressure and the likeliness of developing heart disease, diabetes or having a stroke! Isn’t that amazing? Doing things for others can help you be healthier and happier in life! A good reminder I often like to ask myself is- “Would you rather be remembered for LOOKING good or DOING good in life?”. Consider this when you start thinking about the goals and overall purpose that is driving your daily thoughts and actions.
In conclusion, while BMI may be a method in which health has been measured for years and years, it is not the best way to evaluate one’s overall well being! Rather than focusing on your weight to height ration, consider these 10 other factors discussed above that play a significant role in how healthy you truly are, inside and out!
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-Happy Eating! Kristin-