Many of my patients and people, in general, get fixated on the scales. I think the scales are important and tracking our body weight is a great measure of getting leaner. It, however, is not the only measure. Tracking fitness and health can be done by looking at any of a myriad of markers and measurements.
Total body weight is a good measurement to give us an overall idea of our health. It can be misleading if a person has a high percentage of lean muscle mass. Their body weight may appear high on weight charts, but they in fact are healthy and have a low body fat percentage. This is the problem with the BMI as. a measurement of health.
BMI or Body Mass Index is a body volume number based on height and body mass or size. It began as a scientific measurement of body size but was adopted by insurance companies to get an idea of an individuals health when applying for life insurance and health insurance. In the general population it gives a general indication of any individual’s health and risks of developing disease. It will be a poor indicator in some extremely fit and muscle defined individuals. A professional football player that is 6 feet tall and weighs 225 would be considered obese by the BMI chart. This athlete most likely has a high fat free body mass and maybe a 10-15% body fat and would be extremely healthy.
In general an excellent BMI ranges from 18 to 25. Overweight is classified with a BMI between 25 and 30, Obesity is designated with a BMI between 30 and 40 and Extreme or Morbid Obesity above 40. The higher the BMI the greater the risk for weight related disorders such as Hypertension, Diabetes Type II, Abnormal Lipids, Osteoarthritis, Sleep Apnea, Many Cancers, Poor immune function, Digestive disorders, and all Cardiovascular risks like Heart Attack and Stroke.
Other better measurements of health include percent body fat, body water, and fat free mass. These can be measured with a scale that uses bio-impedence. A slight current is passed through the body (you can’t feel it) and the currents resistance through different tissue densities can measure fat, water, and lean tissue such as muscle and organs. The percent body fat for females should generally be below 28% and for males below 22%. Percent body water should be above 50% and lean mass should be above 70%. These numbers will vary with age. These percentages will almost always add up to over 100%. How can we be over 100%?
Remember our body is 50 to 65% water. Even muscle and fat have water with them. That extra water in our fat and lean tissue makes the number higher.
Another way to track progress with a health and fitness plan is to measure body circumferences. Track waist size, thigh size, arm size, and neck size. As we lose body weight and mass, these measurements will decrease. Sometimes the scales stay the same and our circumferences improve. This is body re-shaping. Some people can tell their body is getting smaller by the fit of their clothes. This is a great way to measure success.
How we feel can be a great indicator of our improving health. If we feel stronger, have more energy, or notice greater stamina, these are measurements of overall improved fitness and health. One of the first things my patients notice when losing weight is an increase in their energy. They can do more things and want to do more things.
Your doctor can measure improvements in your health. A blood sugar test or lipid panel can show improvements in diet and overall health. Other medical measurements are insulin levels, liver functions and kidney functions, blood pressure readings, and hormone levels. As we get leaner and more fit, these readings typically move to optimal levels. I advise an annual check up with blood testing, but if you are working hard on getting lean and fit and extra visit to the doctor may be very enlightening and motivating.
More advanced measurements of health include cognitive testing, stress testing, pulmonary function testing, and flexibility testing. These can be set up with a doctor who is interested in wellness or with a good trainer.
Measuring our progress is extremely important. Without tracking we drift and bounce around and get frustrated as we can’t see our progress. We become disillusioned and often throw in the towel. A wise businessman once said: “What gets measured, gets managed.” Managing our food intake, our energy output, and one or more of the measures being discussed can contribute to more steady and complete success in achievement of health and fitness.