|Why Weight Isn't A Good Indicator Of Health
Do you think that because you're slim and aren't carrying extra weight, you're healthy? Think again…
For many of us the number on the scales changes how we feel about ourselves. Gain a kilo or two and we try to work it off. Lose weight and we're on top of the world. Feelings aside, our weight is also a tool used to determine how healthy we are for our height, as well as our risk of developing chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes.
With society declaring thinness as the 'ideal', many of us believe the scales are the greatest indicator of our health. However, irrespective of the numbers, body weight alone doesn't tell us how healthy we are on the inside.
Despite concerns about the obesity epidemic, research shows our obsession with weight as the main measure of health may in fact be misguided. According to a research, despite excess weight, many overweight or obese people have healthy blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and high levels of 'good' cholesterol. On the other end of the weight scale, however, the study found that one in four people with a healthy weight had at least two risk factors for heart disease.
When it comes to longevity, overweight people have been found to have a lower risk of dying than people of normal weight, which suggests weight alone doesn't give us the perfect reflection of health.
Why Is Weight Unreliable?
When we talk about whether our weight is healthy or not, we do so in reference to our height. What we get is our body mass index (BMI). While BMI is meant to determine our degree of body fatness and provide an insight into our health, in reality it has some limitations. BMI does not take into account gender, age or body-fat distribution, nor does it distinguish fat mass from lean tissue, mass such as muscle and bone.
Fat mass and lean tissue do not weight the same – fat is lighter than muscle. Therefore, it's possible for muscular people to be rated as overweight or obese on the BMI scale, when its actual fact they're healthy on the inside, with larger amounts of muscle mass and lower levels of body fat.
Other Measures Of Health
If we can't rely on weight to determine our health, what can we rely on? Luckily for us there are many other health measurements that can be taken and collectively used to determine our overall health.
1. Waist Circumference
Where you store fat may be more important than your weight or BMI, with research showing abdominal fat to be more closely linked to diseases like heart disease and diabetes. It's recommended that our waist circumference be less than 94cm for men and less than 80cm for women. A large circumference indicates fat deposits on the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas, making them work harder and increasing the risk of disease.
Measuring waist circumference is useful when monitoring lifestyle changes because regular exercise can reduce waist circumference and cardiometabolic risk (heart and endocrine conditions like diabetes), without changing the BMI. Measure your waist circumference. The correct place to measure your waist is horizontally halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bone that is slightly above your belly button. Breathe in and out normally, and then take the measure. The tape should be snug, without squeezing the skin.
2. Body Composition
Your ratio of muscle to fat matters when it comes to health. Muscle is metabolically active and the major tissue that responds to insulin, helping to control blood glucose levels.
While muscle wastage is generally associated with people over 60, the truth is we start to lose muscle mass in our mid-twenties and it accelerates, from the age of 50. Thanks to our sedentary lifestyles and overindulgent eating patterns, many of us are unknowingly experiencing a reduction in muscle mass and an increase in body fat. This is producing a fat, frail population which has the worst of two worlds increased weakness due to muscle loss and a need to carry greater weight due to obesity.
A loss of muscle also promotes insulin resistance, a condition where the cells of the body do not respond to insulin and greater amounts of insulin are needed to do the same job. High insulin levels in turn promote metabolic syndrome and obesity. It then becomes a cyclic effect with obesity promoting insulin resistance and accelerating fat gain and muscle wastage.
3. Fitness Level
To improve your longevity, get active. Boosting your cardiovascular fitness can reduce mortality rate by an impressive 44 per cent, independent of weight loss, while US research has found people with the lowest cardiovascular fitness are four times as likely to die than those with the highest cardiovascular fitness. Good muscular strength and flexibility is also important, as it enables us to maintain physical independence as we age, as well as our muscle mass.
You can test your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility by completing certain tests.
4. Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries as it's being pumped around the body by the heart. High blood pressure puts a strain on our blood vessels and over time can damage and weaken our arteries and heart. It is the leading risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and heart failure and is the second leading cause of chronic kidney failure. It doesn't usually come with any warming signs, so visit your GP to have it checked each year. Normal blood pressure is a reading of 120/80mmHg or less, while high blood pressure is diagnosed at 140/90mmHg.
5. Blood Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in our blood. Some of our cholesterol comes from the food we eat, but most of it is made in the body by the liver. Cholesterol is a component of cell membranes, sex hormones and is essential for the production of vitamin D and bile. However, an excess causes a build-up of fatty deposits, narrowing arteries and increasing heart disease risk.
Cholesterol comes in several different forms including LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the bad type as it deposits cholesterol onto blood vessel walls, where it builds up narrowing and eventually blocking the blood vessel. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is the good type because it carries cholesterol away from blood vessels back to the liver.
Visit your doctor once a year to get your blood cholesterol levels checked.
6. Blood Glucose Levels
Blood glucose provides our brain and muscles with the energy needed to perform daily tasks. Too much glucose in the blood, however, is not good for health. Normally, the hormone insulin helps cells take up glucose from our blood so that it can be used for energy. However, in some people, either enough insulin may not be produced or their bodies can't use it properly, which cause blood glucose levels to rise. High blood glucose levels over many years can damage blood vessels and organs such as your heart and kidneys. Blood glucose levels are normal between 3.5-8mmol/L.