Is your BMI too high? That may not be a bad thing!

Who hasn’t gone to the BMI grid to see where they measure up only to question it’s accuracy. Now that could be due to denial, or it may be questionable for good reason. If  you feel that the chart does not accurately represent your true fitness level or health – you may be right. The term BMI gets thrown around a lot these days and has become  a “go-to” term when describing someone’s overall health and risk for heart disease and stroke. BMI or Body Mass Index, represents a person’s body fat by their weight and height. To me that already seems like a lot of responsiblity given to one chart given the different body types and fitness levels of all shapes and sizes. If you haven’t seen a BMI chart before, here is a link to find your number:

See where you stand according to the chart:

Underweight      <18.5

Normal weight    18.5-24.9

Overweight          25-29.9

Obese                     30 or >

If your results surprise you, you are not alone. As an avid exerciser and proponent of a fit lifestyle, I was a little shocked by my own number. I do fall in the normal range, but not as easily as I would have expected for the amount I workout. “The amount I workout” could actually be the reason my number was a bit of a surprise. Strength training is a big part of my exercise program, and although I am not bulky, I have developed muscles. We all know that muscle weighs more than fat, and since the BMI chart relies heavily on your weight (whether it comes from fat or muscle), a fit person who weight trains could fall in the “wrong” category. Some studies have shown that fit “overweight” people are healthier than those who are thin and inactive. Again, the level of activity remains paramount to our longevity- even if you have a few pounds to lose.

Other factors the BMI chart does not factor in are frame size, and, for the elderly, the loss of height while their weight remains the same. An elderly person who gains no fat but loses inches in height, will see their BMI standing go up, but has their risk for chronic disease really gone up? What about the distribution of fat? Fat in our midsections is more dangerous than fat around our hips and thighs. Again, BMI does not track where the fat is stored, which is kind of important when determining someone’s risk for diabetes and heart disease.

I don’t want to completely dismiss the BMI chart, but it’s results need to be combined with a couple of other tests and standards in my opinion.   A person’s waist circumference is a great indicator of heart disease, stroke and diabetes risk. Abdominal and visceral fat are very dangerous, so we need to be within the limits with our waistlines. For women, 35 in. or less is in the healthy range, and men should be less than 40 in. To measure you waist circumference, take a tape measure and measure around your waist where the tape measure crosses your navel. Don’t hold your breath when measuring.

Assessing your actual body fat % is another important test and indicator of fitness level. There are a couple of ways this can be done. The easiest and most available way is to use calipers. See a doctor or personal trainer for this test. They will use calipers to pinch  skin (it doesn’t hurt) on a few locations on your body such as waist and thighs. This is pretty accurate within a few % points. One of the most accurate tests  is hydrodensitometry, more commonly referred to as the “dunk tank”. This test measures the difference between someone’s weight out of water”dry weight” and their weight in the tank. Here are the ranges for fat %:

Description Women Men
Essential fat 10–13% 2–5%
Athletes 14–20% 6–13%
Fitness 21–24% 14–17%
Average 25–31% 18–24%
Obese 32%+ 25%+

Learn more about this and the chart above at :

The next time you get hung up on numbers and graphs when it comes to your weight, remember to look at the big picture of your health and lifestyle. No two people are exactly alike, and it may take several assessments to get an accurate picture of our true risk for chronic diseases. Most importantly, stay active, eat healthy and have a positive outlook on your health no matter what the numbers say!

What si your opinion on BMI? Does it truly represent someone’s health risks or fitness level?

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