The Skinny on BMI

BMI, or Body Mass Index, is once again receiving some attention questioning its usefulness as an indicator of health. A recent article in Time magazine points out what athletes have known for years, that if you work out regularly, it’s easy to tip the scales into the overweight category according to BMI, even for very fit individuals. So what gives? Why do doctors keep using BMI to assess the health of their patients, and what do you need to know about BMI?

BMI uses a simple calculation based on height and weight to determine the likelihood that someone is carrying too much or too little body fat. Although it isn’t foolproof, it’s a pretty good starting point to determine whether you need to lose a few pounds. You can calculate your own BMI easily using an online calculator, like this one. If you’re a female with a medium to small build, a healthy body fat level, and not unusually muscular, you’ll probably find yourself fitting pretty easily within the healthy range. Once you get outside of those categories, BMI gets a little trickier.

We all know that muscle weighs more than fat and BMI is a classic example of how this bears out in practice. Since bodybuilders and other athletes emphasize gaining muscle in their training, they frequently fall into an unhealthy BMI, while exhibiting a very healthy range of body fat. This is one reason that both male and female athletes benefit from prioritizing performance over a number on the scale (here’s a fun blog on why weight isn’t always the best predictor of health or performance).

This happens across the board for men, women and even children. Since men have a lower percentage of body fat than women, and since BMI doesn’t consider gender, men are even more likely to be considered overweight by the BMI calculator, especially if they work out. So where does that leave you when calculating your goal weight or when talking to your doctor at your next physical?

Basically, BMI is a good starting point for a conversation about your weight. If you know that you’re overweight but you’re also pretty fit, BMI probably isn’t going to be the best way for you to establish your goal weight. We know that for overweight individuals, losing 10 percent of their bodyweight is associated with huge improvements in health indicators, so this might be the best place for you to start if you’re looking for an achievable goal with a big pay-off for your health.

Here are other indications of healthy bodyweight:

  1. Tracking body fat through skin caliper or electrical impedance testing. This isn’t perfect in terms of accuracy, but if you control for hydration and the individual doing the testing, it’s not bad.
  2. Changes in measurements, especially in the hips/thighs (for women) and the abdominal area (for men and women).
  3. The Body Adiposity Index is one tool that’s been thrown around as an alternative to the BMI, as an easy to use indicator of obesity that is based on measurements, rather than body weight. The calculation, like this one, for that index is based on your hip measurement to height ratio and can be a better indicator of health for muscular individuals.

The final word seems to be that, whether you’re male or female, as you gain muscle the numbers on the scale and calculations, such as BMI, based on that number lose some of their usefulness as the best indication of your health. Take a look at your energy levels, your blood test results (you’re getting those taken at your physical, too, right?), how your clothes fit and how your body measurements have changed over time. The best approach uses those, in conjunction with BMI, for a conversation with your doctor about whether your health is heading in the right direction.

Does BMI leave you confused? Have you mastered it? Tell us how you track your health in the comments below.

Exercise and Stress Levels

Behavioral Scientists and Medical Doctors seem to disagree on many issues. However, there is one subject they are in agreement over: Exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety. According to many experts, stress is one of the major contributing factors to how one ages, and ultimately one’s lifespan. The good news is that exercise can reduce stress, elevate your mood and promote a general feeling of well being, which can help us live more productive lives and age more gracefully.

According to an article published in the February 2011 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which is often associated with an increase in belly fat. The reduction of these stress hormones is known to have positive effects on your cardiovascular system, muscular system, nervous system, as well as your brain.

Aerobic exercise also stimulates production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Mayo Clinic stated that physical activity serves as a form of meditation, allowing you to forget about the day’s irritations and focus only on your body’s movements. You will also get more restful sleep as a result of regular exercise.

The article goes on to say that behavioral factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina improve, so does your self image. According to Matthew Stults-Kolehnainen, PH.D, as told to HuffPost Healthy Living, exercise promotes neurohormones like norepinephrine that are associated with improved cognitive function, elevated moods and learning. Your renewed vigor and sense of self pride will help equip you in the future to deal with stressful situations in a much more productive manner. It sort of comes full circle.

As with all exercise programs, consult your physician first. Find what form of cardio exercise works for you and begin your program. If you are just starting out remember to start slow, set realistic goals and try to change your routine as much as possible. The typical recommendation is to increase your activity level weekly by 10 percent.

Remember, positive physical and mental health are lifelong goals. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Influence how you age by reducing your stress levels through a regular exercise routine and eating a properly balanced diet.

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/exercise-reduces-stress-levels-anxiety-cortisol_n_3307325.html http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036

Fitness Equipment Safety Tips

Vision Fitness is a company that strives to make products that are safe to use. See below for a list of guidelines that can help you use your cardio equipment safely. Remember you can always refer to your Owner’s Manual for specifications.

Treadmills

  • Safety Key – The safety key is a red (or rarely black) magnetic piece that has a cord with a clip at the end. Make sure you are wearing the clip from the safety key anytime you use the treadmill, and have the safety key in the correct spot on the console. In case you feel light-headed, nauseous or need to stop unexpectedly, place both hands on the side arm rests to hold yourself up, place your feet onto the side rails and pull the safety key to stop the treadmill running belt immediately.
  • Space – It’s important to have enough space around the unit for use. You can check your Owner’s Manual for specifics. Generally you should leave a clear zone behind the treadmill that is at least the width of the treadmill and at least 79” long. This zone must be clear of any obstruction and provide the user a clear exit path from the machine. For ease of access, there should be a space on each side of the treadmill that is equal to 36” (915 mm) to allow a user to approach the treadmill from either side.
  • Maintenance – Another small, but ever so important, step in keeping your unit safe is following the maintenance. Refer to your Owner’s Manual for specifics, but generally it will be tightening the assembly bolts once a month, wiping the machine down after each use, waxing the treadmill deck (IF NECESSARY), and vacuuming any dust and debris out from underneath the motor cover.

Ellipticals, Bikes, & Ascent Trainers

  • Space – There should be one foot of clearance in front of the elliptical for the power cord. For ease of access, there should be space on each side of the elliptical equal to 36” (915 mm) to allow a user to approach the machine from either side.
  • Maintenance – Refer to your Owner’s Manual for specifics, but you should be tightening the assembly bolts on your machine once a month, wiping down the machine after each use, and all for elliptical only, making sure the tracks and wheels are clean and clear of debris.

Check your Owner’s Manual for specific information, but keeping safety in mind will also help your machine run longer and stronger for you.