Do you weigh yourself regularly?
And do you have a specific number in mind that you'd like to weigh?
Here's a thought: what if the above two questions were the wrong questions?
The truth is your simple body weight can be a misleading and dangerously one-dimensional number, especially if you over-focus on it.
Instead consider these six other metrics, each of which provide more value, more insight and more information about your health and fitness.
Your cholesterol numbers
Think of your cholesterol numbers as a measurement of your long term cardiovascular health. After all, you can be "thin" in the body weight sense yet still have dangerously high cholesterol. Be sure to have bloodwork done with your regularly scheduled physical and ask your doctor how to interpret the results. Most importantly, ask for your own copy of your blood records for your personal files, so you can keep track of your HDL, LDL and total cholesterol numbers and ratios over time.
Your blood pressure
Most people know that the magic number for blood pressure is 120/80. Readings higher than that can indicate risk of heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular illness. And while being overweight generally correlates with higher than normal blood pressure, you can also be thin in the body weight sense and still have blood pressure issues.
Obviously, your doctor or health professional will check your blood pressure as part of a normal exam, but you can also own your own blood pressure cuffs for home use (we actually own two here at Casual Kitchen, one that's manual and one that's battery powered). Finally, you can check your blood pressure for free in many drugstores and supermarkets.
Your body fat content
Your body fat percentage is an extremely useful measure of fitness and health, and it can be measured with varying techniques (and with varying degrees of accuracy) at any gym, fitness center or community health clinic. Ask a trainer or a health aide to help you understand the results.
Your BMI is simply your body's height/weight ratio, and it is a simple way to assess your fitness and health. There are limits to what your BMI can tell you, but it is an excellent shorthand way to determine if your weight is appropriate for your height, and it's a considerably more useful number than your simple one-dimensional body weight. [Here's an easy BMI calculator.]
There are plenty of skinny people out there who aren't fit. And likewise, there are plenty of heavy people capable of stunning feats of fitness (two words: Charles Barkley). Let me propose two more nuanced and complete measures of your health and fitness:
1) How fast can you walk (or run) a mile?
2) Can you complete a 10K walk or fun run?
If you can't do the first and can't comprehend doing the second, then you've just stumbled onto some critically important information about your fitness--information that's far more useful than your absolute weight rendered in numerical form.
Don't fall into the stereotypical trap of thinking weights are only for 24-year-old musclebound meatheads. There are stacks of studies showing the health benefits of weight-bearing exercise for women and men of all ages.
Ironically, an increasingly common sighting in gyms these days isn't the musclebound meathead, it's the weightroom geek: a friendly person who, while working out, roams the weight room with a pen and notebook, keeping assiduous records of his or her exercises, weights and rep counts. Visit your local gym or YMCA and see if regular weight training can help you achieve your health and fitness goals. I'm betting it will.
Getting fitter and gaining weight
I'll conclude this post with a brief story. When she was in her late 20s, my wife Laura decided she wanted to play better-quality tennis, and she knew in order to do so she had to improve her cardiovascular fitness. So, she started running 2-3 miles three times a week. Within a few months, her body fat content dropped and she developed much better endurance.
But guess what else? She gained weight. Nearly 10 pounds, which is notable on someone 5 feet 2 and 3/4 inches tall (and don't you dare forget the 3/4!).
Once she stopped screaming and thought about it for a few minutes, Laura easily figured out what happened: her body composition had changed as she burned fat and replaced it with muscle. And muscle has about double the density of body fat. This explains how someone can get into shape, even far better shape, and yet gain some weight in the process.
Many people can get so over-focused on their weight that they miss the big picture: that by getting fitter, you add years to your life. Essentially, you buy more time above ground. Isn't that a far more meaningful goal than shooting for some arbitrary number on your bathroom scales?
Measure your body by what it can do. Don't fixate on body weight to the exclusion of all the other information your body offers you. Weight is just a number, and it's nearly useless without context.
Readers: what experiences can you share?
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