This chart shows ranges for the body mass index. (YMCA)
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and can help you prevent and control many diseases and conditions. If you are overweight or obese, you are at higher risk of develping serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers. In addition, extra body weight can add extra pressure on your joints causing extra pain for those who suffer with arthritis. Often times, you can reduce pain significantly by losing weight. This is why maintaining a healthy weight is so important. It helps you lower your risk for developing these problems, helps you feel good about yourself, and gives you more energy to enjoy life.
Overweight is a term used to describe individuals having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat, and/or water. The majority of people are not overweight due to excess muscle or bone, but rather extra body fat. Obesity is a term used to designate individuals having a high amount of extra body fat. Body builders or individuals with a lot of muscle may fall into the overweight category, but are still fit and healthy. It’s important to understand the difference between weight that is a result of a muscular physique versus excess body fat. Potential negative effects on your health are caused by having too much fat.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the representation of overweight tends to vary from culture to culture. Here in America, our culture tends to idolize overly-thin people, sending a distorted message about what is healthy. On the other hand, many cultures value heavier individuals, encouraging women to be extra curvy. For that reason, it’s important for individuals to use a different measure, rather than looks, to determine whether or not they are overweight or obese. One effective way to make this determination is to measure your Body Mass Index (BMI).
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated using a person’s weight and height. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fat content for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems. Although determining your height and weight is fairly easy to calculate, plugging the numbers into a formula and doing the math may be a challenge. However, there are several tools easily found on websites that calculate your BMI for you. Google “calculate BMI” and see what pops up in your search. You can also plug your height in inches and weight in pounds on the chart below to determine if your BMI is too high.
Many factors can contribute to a person’s weight. These factors include environment, family history and genetics, metabolism (the way your body changes food and oxygen into energy), and behavior or habits.
Energy balance is important for maintaining a healthy weight. The amount of energy or calories you get from food and drinks (energy IN) is balanced with the energy your body uses for things like breathing, digesting, and being physically active (energy OUT):
If the amount of energy coming IN equals the amount of energy going OUT over time, then your weight stays the same (energy balance). If more energy is coming IN than OUT over time then you gain weight. If more energy is going OUT than IN over time, then you experience weight loss.
To maintain a healthy weight, your energy IN and OUT do not have to balance exactly every day. It’s the balance over time that helps you maintain a healthy weight. Many people can reach and maintain a healthy weight if they eat healthy, maintain proper portion sizes, and stay within the recommended number of portions from the different food groups. There are thousands of websites you can visit for healthy eating tips, tracking calories and offer advice on finding the best “diet.” For reliable information, I recommend www.cdc.gov and www.nih.gov.
Although many people can reach and maintain a healthy weight by following a healthy diet and exercise, some may struggle due to medical conditions and should consult with a physician and registered dietician for screening and assistance.
Take some time to calculate your BMI and see where you fall on the graph. If your BMI falls in the overweight category, then work toward making small changes in your eating and exercise program to help bring it down into the “normal” range. If you fall into the obese range, you definitely need to take steps to ensure your health will not suffer. In some instances, individuals with borderline high blood pressure or diabetes find that losing between 20-40 pounds can allow blood pressure and sugar levels to
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.