BMI and wellness, what’s the connection?
The other day one of my clients was asking me what I thought his ideal weight and BMI should be. He was thinking that it would be much better to have a BMI of 22 vs. 24. I thought about this for a minute and realized that he, as most people don’t understand this frequently used scale of relative body weight. Rather than focusing on BMI or ideal weight, it’s much better to understand the all elements of optimal wellness.
Let’s start by defining BMI or Body Mass Index.
Underweight = under 19
Normal range; 19-24.9
Your overall proportions have an impact on where you would fall in (or out of) the normal range. You could be built slight, have long legs, a larger upper body, big booty, a long torso, barrel chest, or any number of other variations. Therefore normal by definition is a range of healthy weight that varies in part due to differences in build, muscle density, and body proportion.
Waist circumference is also an important factor to consider. Your waist measurement should be under 40” for men, under 34” for women to ward off disease and early death.
In regard to people who fall within the normal range, let’s look at two basic issues, health/wellness and looks/attractiveness.
When considering appearance, there are personal & cultural preferences that determine your “looks” goal. You may prefer to look like a long distance runner (thin all over), a basketball player (medium athletic), a linebacker (heavily muscled), or a sumo wrestler (Pillsbury Doughboy). Achieving this goal may or may not affect your long-term health. For instance if you feel that you have to be super skinny like a model in a magazine, you may very well become sick in the long run. On the other hand, having a few extra pounds may not significantly affect your morbidity.
Assuming you’re physically active, which includes weight bearing exercise, your BMI can fall anywhere within the normal range and there should be no difference to your health or prospective life span. As you age farther into your senior years it appears that we all are better off with a little more fat on our body in case of illness, accident, or disease, as this will give us energy reserves to fend off illness. If you carry more fat and you want to look better, it would be better to have more muscle so that you have more surface area to spread it over.
Many people in our society would be happy to fall into the top end of the healthy range and a lot of my clients initial weight loss goals leave them in the overweight category. I guess a lot of trainers might have a problem with this, but in our society when dealing with people who have been obese for many years, many people just don’t believe that the “normal” weight range is reasonable, so therefore I accept these initial weight goals. I understand that helping my clients to achieve their initial goals will most likely lead to further reductions provided we (together) change their habits and I’m able to pass on the knowledge required for them to continue to control their own destiny.
I believe the more important issues for long-term health and wellness, including life extension, are body composition, activity level, a healthy diet, and some less concrete factors that contribute to your life experience. It’s imperative to maintain your lean body mass in order to be healthy. This requires regular physical activity including resistance training (weight lifting). You can be overweight and still be healthier than a person who has a normal weight if you exercise regularly and your vitals all fall within the normal range, where the person with a BMI in the normal range could still be less well, with less certain quality of their senior years if they are victim to rollercoaster dieting and/or a sedate lifestyle. Additionally, regular exercise helps prevent fat from accumulating around your organs, which can lead to adverse outcomes such as stroke and heart attacks.
It’s important to have regular physicals and know that your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, etc. are all in the normal range. Eating healthy, regular strenuous activity, adequate sleep, intellectual stimulation, community involvement, family support, as well as acceptance, compassion, and gratitude are all important factors in your long-term health and wellness. My credo is being all you can be, don’t focus only on the external, and exercise all the levels of your being for optimum wellness.