Just stepping on the scale doesn’t tell you much about your future health. That is why health professionals use a variety of measures to help predict a client’s risk of heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and premature aging and/or death.
Commonly the Body Mass Index (BMI) is used. The BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women. A number outside of the normal range is an indication of potential future health problems, whether you score under a normal weight range or over.
Although giving a person their BMI can be a useful motivator it does have its limitations. Firstly it can overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build. Secondly it may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle.
Another measure that is used is waist circumference. This measurement screens for possible health risks that come with being overweight or obese, especially heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk goes up with a waist size greater than 35 inches for women (88 cm) or greater than 40 inches (102 cm) for men.
To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.
New research is encouraging health professionals to move away from BMI as a sole predictor of future health because people who have normal BMIs may have large waist circumferences and are more likely to suffer from health-related problems including dying younger than their peers with smaller waists.
How does someone with a normal BMI end up with excess abdominal fat? A major culprit is cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. When we are stressed our body produces excess cortisol. The cortisol triggers fat cells to move fat molecules into the bloodstream for more energy. If you do not “fight or flight” and use this excess energy the unused fats are re-deposited in the adipose (fat) tissues surrounding the belly.
Not getting enough sleep also increases our cortisol levels. High levels of cortisol also increase our appetite for starchy carbohydrates and sugar even when we have eaten enough.
For women they may notice a change in their bodies after menopause when their estrogen levels decrease. Lower estrogen levels prompt the body to produce more cortisol and this is why women who traditionally deposited fat around their hips will now see a shift after menopause with fat depositing around the abdomen instead. For men lower levels of testosterone promote abdominal fat. How do you get a beer belly? Alcohol suppresses testosterone production for up to 24 hours following consumption.
Grab a tape measure, track your ‘circumference’ and enhance your awareness of your health. Do you need to make some changes?