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

The Benefits of Using Stationary Bikes

Although new exercise routines and regimens seem to appear on a daily basis, and treadmills and ellipticals continue to be the most popular cardio pieces in the gym, don’t overlook the original piece of stationary exercise equipment, the bike. The benefits of using an exercise bike are numerous and diversified. It is a great workout for beginning exercisers, elite athletes, those returning from injuries, or someone doesn’t have the space or budget for a high-end treadmill or elliptical.

Other than training your cardiovascular system and burning calories, the single most significant benefit to using a stationary bike is that it allows you to do those things without the pounding and impact of weight bearing exercises. An exercise bike allows you to train while giving your skeletal system and joints a break. So physiologically, you can see how it is useful to every type of exerciser.

Although there are dual action bikes (with upper body arms) available, most bikes in use today are lower body upright and recumbent bikes. Don’t fall into the trap believing that because you are not using your upper body, you are not getting a good workout. The largest muscles in the body are in your legs and when you put them in motion against resistance, you will get a great workout.

Stationary bikes are a great way for first time exercisers, overweight users looking to lose weight and those needing a low-impact workout to begin an exercise program. They are fixed motion pieces that require very little coordination and are relatively easy to use. You can elevate your heart rate and burn calories and fat without the stress of a weight bearing exercise.

For elite athletes, the bike provides a great complementary cross training workout, while reducing the risk of developing overuse injuries. You can get off your feet and give your joints a break from impact activities, yet you can continue to train your cardiovascular system. Each activity you do works your muscles differently. The bike can also add variety to you workout routines.

Finally, if you are recovering from an injury or joint replacement, the bike can be an integral part of your recovery and help get you back on your feet doing what you love to do.

Finally, cost and space. These are two of the biggest factors or hurdles people encounter when trying to decide on a piece of fitness equipment for the home. If you can’t commit to at least $1,500 for a quality treadmill or a $1,000 for a quality elliptical, a stationary bike may be the better option for you. There are many quality choices for under a $1,000. Or, if you are tight on space, the bikes take up less room and are portable. Just wheel it out in front of the TV and you are on your way to a healthier future.

Summary of Benefits

  • Trains cardiovascular system
  • Burns calories
  • Low impact
  • Easy to use
  • Low risk of injury
  • Helps develop leg strength
  • Excellent form of cross training
  • Can add variety to weight bearing exercise routines
  • Bikes take up less space
  • Are typically more affordable
  • Are portable

So if you’re in the market for a new piece of cardio equipment, consider an exercise bike for a great low impact workout that you can easily fit in your home.

Use Internet Product Reviews and Claims to Your Buying Benefit

Buying the right fitness equipment for your home gym can be a daunting task. If you are like most people making a significant purchase for your home, you will probably turn to the Internet to do some research on product reviews, or even make a purchase. It has become almost second nature for a majority of the population these days.

Although the Internet is a wonderful invention that has significantly changed the way we live our lives, it has also become a source for an incredible amount of misinformation and marketing chicanery. Like shopping or researching in any channel, you should consider the source. A combination of affiliate marketing websites, product reviews and pay-per-click advertising can make your research more challenging. However, there is a ton of accurate and legitimate information out there. Here are some tips to help you find reliable information.

Get Information Directly From the Source

Use manufacturers’ websites to find correct product information (features/specifications) and local distributors’ websites for information on where you can actually try, test and talk to a sales professional about the products you are interested in. Exercise and your health are very personal, and what is right for your friend or cousin, may not necessarily be right for you. I encourage you to take the time to educate yourself on the programs and equipment options that are available to you.

Be wary of the temptation of late night infomercials

Some fitness “gadgets” sold on TV are of inferior quality and questionable design. However, there are some very successful workout programs out there. If you do watch infomercials, don’t forget to do your research before making a purchasing decision. Look for those products that offer a guarantee without charging fees for returns, show results from actual customers and have research to back up their claims.

Educate Yourself on Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing websites have grown significantly over the years. Affiliate marketing is using one website to drive traffic to another via methods such as search engine optimization, paid search engines, email marketing, loyalty programs and product reviews. The affiliate is then compensated when the customer purchases from the original merchant.

Affiliates can help manufacturers generate awareness and sales through their large network. Affiliate websites are usually sales or content focused. Affiliate sites that are content focused often promote product reviews. Consumer product reviews are generally the most credible. If a specific website features product reviews they should list their review methodology and their experience in the health and fitness space to help you decide for yourself if the review is credible. Look for websites that offer original content and not just content that is copied from the manufacturer.

Read credible product reviews

Product reviews can be a very useful way to get the inside scoop on a product you’re considering purchasing. However, the source of the reviews should be considered. Some online shopping sites are well known for their reviews, and a manufacturer’s website tends to be a good bet. Look out though for websites with no negative reviews. Not to say it’s impossible, but tread carefully as sites with purely positive reviews may not be transparent.

Fortunately there are ways to spot fakes and bogus reviews. One study conducted at Cornell University, found that fake reviews focused more on narratives and superlatives than concrete product descriptions – probably because reviewers rarely have actual experience with the products. According to the website www.wikihow.com, the following tips can be used to spot a fake review.

  • First, check to see if the outgoing links on reviewed products include an affiliate tracking code.
  • Look at what else is on the site.
  • Look to see if the date of the review is current or has been changed recently. Often fake reviewers will change dates to make their page look more recent that it really is.

Affiliate reviews may contain questionable ethics, as low and behold, the products they are trying steer you to buy from their partner merchant often end up as the “number-one rated” or “best buy” when they really are not. Of course, there are award-winning and number-one products out there, but it is a good idea to confirm directly with the manufacturer or awarding entity to make sure the award is accurate.

If someone else praises a product, we’re more likely to think it is worth our time and money. Yep, there are still some fabricated reviews out there but that is why you should look for products with multiple reviews from multiple people. There should also be reviews that are not 100% positive.

When Reading Blogs, Look for Full Disclosure

Paid bloggers is becoming another way for corporations to spread the word about their products on the Internet and to create buzz. It is a relatively inexpensive way to advertise. And bloggers are very eager to turn what was once a hobby, in to a way to make money. The Internet is becoming so populated with paid bloggers, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is considering imposing new laws regulating how products can be pitched on the Internet. Full disclosure of compensation is one way in which a blogger would have to inform their readers about the products they choose to talk about. It probably won’t happen soon, but the fact they are looking into it is      recognition enough that this practice should be monitored.

Use the web to educate yourself on certain models and specifications, and then go talk to a fitness professional at a nearby store and try different models to see which one fits your body properly. The experience will be worth your while and will help get you on the right track to a healthier lifestyle.

7 Helpful Tips to Consider When Purchasing Cardio Fitness Equipment

Choosing the right piece of fitness equipment can seem very daunting these days for the average consumer. The Internet is flooded with information, and there are so many choices. The truth is, there are many good options out there. However, there is a lot of misinformation as well. Here are a few tips to help you wade through the overload of choices and information to choose the best cardio fitness equipment for your home gym.

1) Where to Buy

There are essentially three places to purchase a piece of exercise equipment: online retailers, big-box retailers and specialty retailers.

Online Retailers

Online retailers are convenient and may offer a good price. However, there are numerous concerns and potential hassles with buying a piece of fitness equipment online. These include shipping damage, assembly issues and lack of service support, among others. I strongly suggest that you test drive any product at a retailer before making any online fitness purchase. It’s very easy to make something look good on a website or TV (i.e., your typical infomercial), but the final product may not be what you initially thought. Not taking this step of trying a product out in advance can lead to disappointment.

Big-Box Retailers

These retailers typically offer a selection of fitness equipment that is very feature-heavy with varying levels of quality. Usually the products found here stress style and features over quality and durability. The depth and breadth of fitness or exercise equipment knowledge can vary widely among the staff. Don’t expect much on the service side either, as some stores do not have a dedicated service staff, which means you will likely be calling an 800 number if you have problems.

Specialty Retailers

They will typically carry products that stress quality and durability over features and fluff. Many specialty retailers have staff that have a background in fitness and are trained by factory representatives on all the key details of the products they carry. Plus, they’re a reliable source to contact if you have any questions or equipment troubles after the purchase. Many offer assembly and delivery to your home. Overall, you can expect a higher level of service after the sale and their prices can be very competitive.

2) Why are you buying cardio equipment?

Things to consider when selecting which piece of equipment will work best for you:

Why are you purchasing it? Are you purchasing this equipment to train for a marathon, and do you need a place to work out safely in inclement weather? Are you looking to rehabilitate from an injury, heart attack or surgery? Or maybe you’re just trying to get serious about your fitness or your family’s fitness? What do you hope to accomplish with the purchase of this machine?

Who will be using it? Are you the sole user? Will it be a piece of equipment used by the entire family?

Where are you putting it? Will it be need to be stored away, or will it be a permanent fixture?

With these things in mind, take a look at the deck length, motor size, folding and non-folding options, program options, etc.  However, don’t get too caught up in comparing the specs of one manufacturer to another because:

3) It’s not necessarily about the specs!

If you plan on buying a treadmill, for example, based only on how big the motor size is versus the other guy, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Different brands and different manufacturers have different philosophies on how to build treadmills. A bigger motor is not necessarily a better motor. A longer deck with a fan and speakers doesn’t mean your treadmill is a better value than one without.

Specialty brands typically will use higher-quality motors that run cooler and more efficiently than models or brands you find at a big-box store. They use thicker, higher- quality decks, better belts and larger, higher-quality rollers. There is less plastic and more steel for a sturdier feel. Get the idea?

Similarly, exercise bikes and elliptical trainers have a variety of flywheel weights, but it’s important to also consider the gear ratio. The faster the flywheel spins, the smoother the ride. With either, it’s also important to consider the feel of the machine, whether it be pedal spacing or seat comfort.

Just remember to ask yourself if you want a product that is loaded up on the specification sheet, or a product that doesn’t sacrifice durability and performance in order to look good on paper. Make sure you see the products in person and talk to a knowledgeable fitness consultant before making your choice.

4) Long Warranty = Best product???

Consider the car industry. The best cars don’t necessarily carry the best warranties, do they? Warranty in the fitness industry can be used for a few reasons:

  1. To maintain market share due to lack of innovation.
  2. To BUY market share because the company or product has not been around very long or they are battling another competitor.
  3. Or they simply make a very good product and are willing to back it up.

My suggestion is to be careful buying a cardio machine based only on the warranty. You may get a long warranty but an outdated product. Also, be aware that the warranty is only good if the company is in business, so be sure to check the history of the manufacturer you are considering to make sure they have a track record and have a good chance be around long enough to honor that warranty.

5) What a great deal

We all love a good deal, but if you think you are getting a “Great Deal,” you should be aware that it is commonplace for many online treadmill brands and big-box fitness equipment brands to inflate MSRP to give you the appearance of a “Great Deal.” The reality is the treadmill that is priced at $1,000 off online or in the Sunday ads of the local newspaper is likely $1,000 off almost every day of the year. That high MSRP and huge discount do not mean the product is not a good product – just understand you are not necessarily getting a great deal.

6) Do your research

However, make sure you understand that those “reviews” you are seeing on the Internet are likely marketing sites that get paid to tell you how great a product is. Many of these sites have disclaimers hidden on the site, which will disclose how that site makes money. It may be a situation where the manufacturers for the products they are promoting pay them commission or fees to promote them. So it is in your best interest to be skeptical. Visit the manufacturer’s website, and visit your local retailer to try out the products and ask questions.

7) Put it in perspective

There are too many customers that don’t put things in perspective when purchasing exercise equipment. Exercising regularly has the ability to improve every aspect of your life, but too many people want to put a $500 price tag on it. Purchasing a piece of exercise equipment is an investment in yourself and your health. There is nothing more valuable than that. If you spend X amount on a treadmill or an elliptical, but it lasts you 10 years, you essentially have invested how much per day? How much do you spend a day on coffee? How much money do you spend on your cell phone bill per month? If you don’t look at the overall picture and try to buy the cheapest product, you are likely to be very disappointed and probably are not going to achieve your goals.

Keep these seven tips in mind the next time you’re looking to add some fitness equipment to your home gym.