Body Mass Index: An Incomplete Gauge of Obesity Risk

What would you say about a man who is 6’2 and 235 lbs? If you couldn’t see him, how could you assess whether or not he was at risk for obesity related illnesses? The obvious tool has been to calculate his Body Mass Index, or BMI. You can calculate this by dividing his weight (235 lbs) by his height in inches squared (5476) then multiply by 703 to get the BMI which in this case is 30.2. You can also use various reputable websites to get to the same figure by just inputting his height and weight. According to these websites, a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. Simple right?

What if I told you that this mystery man was Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his bodybuilding career, would you still think he was obese? Probably not.

The problem with BMI is that it only considers height and weight, and fails to acknowledge body composition. Therefore when used solely as an obesity gauge, people with high muscle compositions may end up in the obese range while people with high fat, low muscle compositions may end up in the normal range.

Even though it is flawed, the BMI is still an important component to determining obesity and potential health risk. The National Institute of Health believes that combining BMI, your waist measurement in inches, and taking into consideration your current and genetic risk factors for obesity related diseases provides the best picture at your current and potential risk. More specifically, your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes increases in women with waist measurements of 35 inches or greater and men with waist measurements of 40 inches or greater. This is something a BMI clearly cannot determine.

Remember, the Body Mass Index is just a tool in the fight against obesity but it is not the only tool. You wouldn’t fix a house with just a hammer so why limit yourself to just one tool when looking to improve yourself?

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Get Up and Move!

It is incredibly likely that you are sitting down as you read this, and it is highly unlikely that you have just sat down in front of the computer to read just this blog. If you are like me, you spend hours a day sitting whether it be at work, studying at a desk, or just wasting time on the internet. If that sounds like you, I urge you to get up and walk around your house for 10 minutes. Seriously, get up now and do it. I will wait…

You may think that was a silly suggestion but for those of you with so much going on that you cannot even think of going to the gym, sometimes 10 minutes at a time is all you have…and that is okay.

This post is NOT encouraging laziness. I repeat, DO NOT use this post as an excuse to not exercise. This post is meant to encourage those of you who feel like exercising is impossible, and who think because you cannot fit a 30-60 minute block of time into your day, you might as well not do anything. I strongly feel that exercise can be incorporated into just about anyone’s lifestyle (assuming that you are healthy enough for exercise as per your physician).

Spend one day writing down everything you do, and how long you spend doing each thing. Did you find that you spend 30 minutes each morning watching the news and drinking coffee? Did you take a 20 minute shower? What did you do on your breaks at work? How much TV did you watch after dinner?

I think I have made my point.

Try this. Shave 10 minutes off your shower and walk around your neighborhood briskly. Spend every other news segment doing crunches, lunches, and push ups. Use your breaks at work to walk up and down the stairs or walk around the block. As for the TV after dinner, invest in a DVR. Watching recordings of your favorite shows allows you to fast-forward through commercials, saving you 15-20 minutes off of an hour long show. If you watch two shows a night you have 30-40 minutes of time that you can spend at the gym instead of sitting on the couch watching fast food commercials and candy commercials (those always get me). If you cannot afford a DVR, mute the TV during commercial breaks and spend each break doing different exercises.

You may think that 10 minutes here and there is ineffective, but I urge you to reconsider. If you are not exercising whatsoever, any physical activity will make a difference. In fact, the CDC recommends doing three 10 minute sessions to add up to the 30 minutes if you do not have the time to do it all at once. They have a wonderful article on how to get started with exercise including solutions to some of the more common problems we present as excuses not to.

It is no secret that the benefits of physical activity are endless. Lowing high cholesterol, lowing high blood pressure, and reducing the risk of developing type 2 Diabetes are just a few of them. Any of these benefits should be reason enough to start exercising so I urge you all to get up and move!