Many people consider the number they see on the bathroom scale as key component for defining overall good health. While it’s no secret that being severely obese increases the risk of all kinds of health issues, being just a few pounds overweight may actually be beneficial to your health — if you are physically fit.
Research suggests that overweight people who are metabolically healthy — meaning their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other indicators fall within a healthy range — are at no greater risk of serious health issues or dying than those who are of normal weight. A study from the National Cancer Institute found that moderately overweight people actually lived about three years longer than their normal weight peers.
Being 10 to 15 pounds over your ideal weight can be advantageous. If you become sick it provides a reserve of stored energy, reducing the likelihood of losing lean body mass or becoming dangerously ill (mostly in the case of the elderly). Additionally, having a little padding can reduce the risk of breaking a bone — which can lead to inactivity and additional health complications — during a fall.
That’s not to say that carrying a few extra pounds is the answer to achieving good health, just that it appears not to be a detriment. The key to optimum health — for both slender and overweight people — is being physically fit and eating a healthy diet. So, if you are exercising regularly, that — not the scale or your body mass index (BMI) — is a better indicator of how healthy you are.
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Defining ‘moderately overweight’
BMI is a formula of the ratio of weight and height and is a fairly accurate indicator of body fat. In adults, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered moderately overweight, but still healthy when the diet and exercise are in check. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese and is unhealthy. However, someone who is very muscular may have a relatively high BMI due to the weight of their muscle bulk but actually have a proportionally low and healthy amount of body fat.
To calculate BMI divide weight in pounds by height in inches squared and multiply by 703. For example, 150 pounds/65 inches squared (4,225) x 703 = 24.96. Visit www.cdc.gov/healthyweight for a BMI calculator.
Another indicator of determining body fat and whether you are at a healthy weight is waist circumference. People with a disproportionate amount of fat around their waistline are at a much greater risk of having health problems. As a general rule, a waist measurement of 35 inches or more for a woman and 40 inches or greater for a man is considered unhealthy and is a risk factor for weight-related illnesses. If your waist measurement divided by your hip measurement is greater than 0.9, you’re also at increased risk for coronary heart disease.
It’s never too late to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet consisting of lean meats, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables and committing to a cardiovascular exercise routine of 30 minutes five times per week may help your health indicators fall right into place.
Scales and BMI scores are just tools to determine if weight is playing a role in your health. For a full diagnosis, schedule annual examinations with your primary health care provider.
Adam M. Goodwin is a family medicine physician at Via Christi Clinic on West 21st Street.