Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

One Nation’s Gain

May 19th, 2020

America’s Obesity Crisis Intensifies.

The number of people in the United States who are overweight or obese has been climbing for years, and that excess weight has serious and costly health consequences. So, the projections from a highly respected team of scientists about obesity in America’s future are disconcerting at best.

After conducting national surveys and correcting for our tendency to underestimate our weight in surveys, the scientists discovered that in as many as 29 states, the prevalence of obesity will exceed 50 percent by 2030. In addition, they project that no state will have less than 35 percent of its residents who are obese.

The bottom line is that within the next ten years nearly one in two adults in the US will be obese. Further, the team projects that nearly one in four Americans will be severely obese by 2030.

The team’s report, Projected U.S. State-Level Prevalence of Adult Obesity and Severe Obesity, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December and suggests that the prevalence of severe obesity is expected to be higher than one in four in 25 states. Further, severe obesity is projected to be the most common weight category among the nation’s women, non-Hispanic, black and low-income adults.

Obesity will exceed 50 percent by 2030. – The New York Times

This study’s results mirror those of a study presented in the September 2012 “F as in Fat” report. That report, released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also predicted that half of US adults will be obese by 2030.

Obesity is dangerous. It is linked to a substantial number of negative health effects, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, sleep apnea and breathing problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and certain cancers, including endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder and liver cancer.

The “F as in Fat” report projected that there will be as many as 7.9 million new cases of diabetes a year by 2030, compared with 1.9 million new cases a year in 2012. They suggest there could also be 6.8 million new cases of chronic heart disease and stroke each year, compared with 1.3 million cases in 2012.

Obesity is also expensive. A study conducted in 2013 estimated that the medical cost of obesity totaled $342.2 billion per year. The study also determined that the indirect cost of obesity due to lost productivity came to another $8.65 billion per year. And that was in 2013. Those amounts are likely much higher in 2020.

Obesity is a leading cause of preventable illness, disability and life-years lost in the United States. It is responsible for about one in five deaths, nearly as many as smoking. That makes it an official public health crisis in this country. But what makes us obese?

In general, we’re considered overweight or obese when our weight is higher than a normal weight adjusted for height. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the tool used for measuring this. BMI, which is related to the amount of fat in our bodies, is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A BMI of 30 to 39 is considered obese. A BMI of 40 or higher is extremely obese. The higher our BMI, the greater our risk for developing the health problems associated with obesity.

There are several factors that contribute to obesity, but the bottom line is that we become obese when we consistently consume more calories than we burn through normal daily activity. What we eat also plays a role. Foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt cause weight gain. And most of us eat portions that are larger than necessary to satisfy our hunger.

Our genes also play a role. Genetics is a factor in how much body fat we store, where it’s distributed and how efficiently our bodies metabolize the food we eat into energy.

Medical disorders such as Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition, Cushing’s syndrome, a hormone disorder, and arthritis can lead to decreased activity and weight gain. In addition, certain medications including some antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, steroids and beta-blockers can cause an increase in weight.

Lifestyle and behavioral factors such as a lack of physical activity, smoking, lack of sleep and an unhealthy diet also contribute to the development of obesity. Social and economic factors include not having enough money to buy healthy foods or access to stores that sell healthier food options. Another socioeconomic factor is not having access to a safe place to exercise.

Obesity is a major public health crisis in America that impacts more than 100 million adults and children and is projected to increase dramatically by 2030. Fortunately, obesity and the health and financial consequences associated with it are largely preventable, and that should be our goal.

Steps we can take to help prevent obesity include limiting calorie intake from total fats, shifting away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats. In addition, we can increase our intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and limit our intake of sugar. We also have to boost the number of calories we burn each day by increasing our physical activity. Health officials recommend at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days.

But it will take more than willpower to change the future. There are already federal and state programs in place to educate about making healthy food and exercise choices and to counter fast food and soda marketing. Additional education and more firepower against the big-money fast-food conglomerates is still needed. Our country’s health, now and in the future, depends on it!

Exercise For Mind and Body

May 6th, 2020

The benefits of exercise on physical health are pretty well established. It’s been shown in study after study that regular physical activity helps prevent heart disease and stroke, reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol, control glucose levels associated with diabetes, manage weight and prevent obesity, avoid osteoporosis, and relieve many types of pain, including back pain.

Regular exercise also helps us manage the stress in our lives.

But have you given as much thought to the benefits of routine physical activity on your mental health? It actually has a huge impact. For one thing, exercise releases “feel-good” chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals work to improve mood and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Exercise helps relieve symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and helps with recovery from mental health issues.

In some studies, regular exercise appears to be as effective as existing medication therapy in treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including mild to moderate depression, dementia and anxiety. It has also been shown to help reduce the cognitive issues related to schizophrenia.

Exercise is effective because it works directly on the brain. It increases the volume of certain regions of the brain by pumping extra blood to them. That improves the health of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, because more blood means more that oxygen and nutrients are supplied to the neurons. Improved blood flow also increases certain factors that support neuronal functioning.

For some adults, poor mental health may be linked to their lack of exercise as kids. A new study, released February 12 in Lancet Psychiatry, shows that young people who were sedentary between the ages of 12 to 16 had a higher chance of developing depressive symptoms at age 18 and beyond.

During this study, researchers followed 4,257 adolescents for six years starting at age 12. Participants wore accelerometers for seven days at a time that tracked the amount and intensity of their physical activity, and the information was gathered every two years from age 12 to age 18. Participants were screened for depressive symptoms every two years during that time.

Study results showed that higher amounts of time spent doing sedentary activities, such as watching TV, playing video games and surfing the net, were associated with higher depression scores by age 18. The study found that one additional hour of sedentary behavior per day increased depression scores by ten percent.

On the other hand, the study shows that time spent engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity protected adolescents against developing depression later in life.

At this point, most of you are probably thinking, All of the physical and mental health benefits of exercise are great, but how much do I really need to work out to reap them? The answer may surprise you.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommends that for substantial health benefits, adults should perform at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. The exercise can also be an equivalent combination of moderate intensity and vigorous activity spread throughout the week.

But in its second edition of the guidelines, HHS recognized the value of shorter intervals of exercise as well. And studies conducted over the past several years have borne that out. A French study from 2015 looked at exercise’s effect on the elderly. It found that even low levels of exercise have a protective effect. It led researchers to recommend 15 minutes of “light” activity five days per week to help improve health and longevity in seniors.

In another study on the benefits of short intervals of activity on health, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that individuals who got up and moved around for at least two minutes for every hour of sitting had a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

The researchers in that study defined “light-intensity” exercise as activities such as walking around the office, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a short walk at lunchtime or while on a coffee break.

Finally, a January 2019 study suggested that short but intense bursts of physical activity offers cardiovascular health benefits. In this study, healthy but sedentary young adults were asked to climb three flights of stairs three times per day three days per week for six weeks. After six weeks, the participants’ aerobic fitness improved by five percent, and they had 12 percent more strength on a cycling test.

Don’t dismiss the health benefits of walking. The results of a 13-year study of 139,000 adults showed that people who fit in just two hours of walking per week were 26 percent less likely to die than sedentary people. Walking can be an excellent way to explore and enjoy your neighborhood as well.

So, don’t fret if you’re not a gym rat. You can still reap the physical and mental health benefits of exercise by simply getting up and moving more. Why not give it a try!

Say “Yes” to Yoga

October 10th, 2018

Do you practice yoga or have you ever thought about trying it? I think about it quite a bit, but the problem is I just THINK about it. However, after reading about all of yoga’s benefits, I might actually DO something about it. Like any activity, you can get injured doing yoga, but most doctors agree that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Yoga has an interesting backstory. For starters, it’s a 5,000-year-old practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. There are many different styles, or schools, of yoga that typically combine various physical poses (asanas) and breathing techniques to stimulate the body with meditation to relax the mind. In the West, it’s become a popular form of exercise to improve mind-body control and enhance well-being.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means “to yoke or join together.” Most people believe that refers to the union of the mind and body that occurs with yoga practice. Because there are many styles of yoga with various degrees of complexity, people of all fitness levels can find a style that suites them.

The practice of yoga focuses on your body’s natural tendency to gravitate toward health as well as its ability to self-heal. It works to create strength, awareness and harmony in mind and body. It can help you develop skills for coping and a more positive outlook on life. It also helps you get in tune with both your physical body and your inner self.

As I mentioned earlier, practicing yoga has many health benefits. Research has shown that yoga can help prevent disease and helps recover from it. I’ve read articles with long lists of benefits, but I’ve chose just a few to highlight here.

One of the biggest benefits of yoga is that it reduces stress, and high stress – which is bad enough on its own – is also a risk factor for a bunch of disorders Multiple research studies have shown that yoga can decrease the release of cortisol, which is the main stress hormone. Lower cortisol and lower the stress. Lowering stress helps fight many conditions, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

There’s a growing body of research that shows yoga can help reduce chronic pain, a problem that affects millions of Americans. It has been shown to be especially effective in reducing pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. Several studies suggest that yoga may be effective for chronic low-back pain as well.

Yoga improves flexibility and builds muscle strength. After several yoga classes, you’ll likely notice a gradual loosening of your muscles, and you’ll be able to get into poses you couldn’t get into before. You’ll strengthen your muscles as well, and when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility.

Another benefit of yoga is it gives your immune system a boost. The poses and breathing exercises probably play a part in this, but believe it or not, most of the research supports the role of meditation. Apparently, it gives the immune system a boost at times its called for duty, as in response to an invading organism, but mitigates its function when a reaction is inappropriate, such as with an autoimmune disease like psoriasis.

Yoga has many physical health benefits, but it also has mental health benefits. In addition to fighting depression and anxiety, yoga also helps raise self-esteem. People with low self-esteem often handle their feelings negatively. They might take drugs, drink, overeat, work too hard or sleep around, but yoga is a positive way to direct their energy.

Yoga teaches that its practitioners are manifestations of the Divine. If you practice yoga regularly, you’ll get in tune with your inner self, and you’ll discover that you’re worthwhile. You’ll also experience feelings of gratitude, empathy and forgiveness. Suddenly, you get a sense that you’re part of something bigger, and it gives you a whole new perspective on yourself. Who can’t use a little self-confidence enhancement!

It’s pretty clear that adding yoga a few times a week to your routine can give you a physical and mental boost. It’s worth giving it a try. Say “yes” to yoga. Say “yes” to better physical and mental health.

Moving Matters

July 24th, 2018

For years, groups like the American Heart Association released guidelines for physical activity for adults. The AHA, for instance, recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week. Another option is at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week.Moving Matters

The old benchmark of a total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week rightly suggests that people get health benefits from exercise. But it added that the benefits were obtained only if the activity lasts for ten minutes or longer. Results from a study released earlier this year challenges that theory.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that the length of time a person performs an activity is unrelated to the benefit of living longer. It reported that even short bursts of vigorous activity, like five minutes of brisk walking or jogging, add up to produce health benefits.

The researchers studied the activity habits and health of nearly 5,000 adults age 40 and older for four years. They gathered the participants’ activity levels through wearable tracking devices. After looking at the impact of activities as brief as one minute, the researchers discovered that all of the activity, whatever its duration, helped reap health benefits, as long as the activity reached a moderate or vigorous intensity.

To help update its own physical activity guidelines, the US Department of Health and Human Services commissioned an advisory committee to systematically review the scientific evidence on physical activity, fitness and health. The committee issued their report in March.

The committee’s findings will help HHS as they prepare their new edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It remains to be seen if the new HHS guidelines will include the benefits of shorter bursts of activity or if it will stick to the “ten-minute rule.” The guidelines are due out later this year.

OK, let’s talk about the health benefits of adding physical activity to your weekly routine. There are lots of them, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The benefit most people know about is that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke. What’s more, it can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

Physical activity can help you control your weight, whether you need to lose or just maintain your weight. It can reduce your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes; and if you’ve already got it, it can help you control your blood glucose levels.

Being physically active lowers your risk of colon and breast cancer. Some studies suggest it reduces the risk of endometrial and lung cancer as well. It can keep your bones and muscles strong and even help with the pain of arthritis in your hips or knees. Stronger bones and muscles improve balance and prevent falls.

That’s not all. Physical activity can improve your mental health and your mood. It can keep your thinking sharp longer and reduce the risk for depression. When you feel better physically and mentally, you’re better able to perform your daily activities, which improves your quality of life.

Then there’s that little thing about increasing your chances of living longer. Yeah, there’s that.

The government, the American Heart Association and the study’s researchers may state it a little differently, but the message is basically the same. Getting some moderate-intensity or vigorous physical activity into your day is good for your health. Moving really does matter.

Safe at Work

June 3rd, 2018

Every day, nearly 13,000 Americans are injured on the job. The more startling fact is that all these injuries are preventable. Workplace safety is a main point of focus for the Nation Safety Council, and not just during National Safety Month in June. Businesses and employees must be aware of potential safety hazards all twelve months of the year.Safe at Work

Workplace safety involves a vast number of concerns. Some of the more commons are hazardous chemicals, drug use in the workplace, and slips and falls. Of course, I can’t cover all safety topics here, so I’m going to take a brief look at three that the Safety Council and other organizations have chosen as priorities this year.

Things like toxic chemicals and boxes blocking exits are obvious safety hazards, but we might not think of fatigue as a safety risk. One thing you’ve got to realize is that fatigue is more than just being tired. Fatigue is a whole-body weariness that includes feeling tired, but also feeling reduced energy and needing to put more effort into doing everyday tasks at the level you desire.

The truth is people who feel this way let down their guard, and their safety performance decreases, so does their job performance. It’s estimated that fatigued workers cost employers $136 billion annually in health-related lost productivity.

Eating right, exercising and getting an appropriate amount of sleep can all help ward off fatigue. According to the National Safety Council, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each day to reach peak performance at work. However, 30 percent of workers report averaging less than six hours. It’s time to get some sleep and be safer at work, and everywhere else.

Here’s another interesting fact from the National Safety Council. They say two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence every year. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2014, 409 people were fatally injured in attacks at work, about 16 percent of the total workplace deaths that year.

Here are some more recent statistics. A 2016 publication reported that workplace violence and deaths occurred in most every type of occupation, even ones you wouldn’t suspect. They noted that there were 4,460 injuries and 65 deaths in professional and business services. Who’da thunk it!

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health divides workplace violence into four categories: criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker and personal relationship. Women are most often the victims of personal relationship violence at work. Of course, there’s the active shooter situation. That would fall under the criminal intent category.

There are a few steps employers and businesses can take to help curb and prevent violence on the job. First of all, they need to create a violence prevention plan and make it an essential part of their strategic health and safety plan.

A few things they can include in their plans are making sure the workplace is secure and their employees know whom to call in an emergency, doing background checks on new employees and providing active shooter training. There are other suggestions in this article.

It’s likely the next workplace hazard plays a role in both fatigue and violence. It’s work-related stress. Research has found that 45 percent of lost work days are due to stress, anxiety or depression. That comes out to 11.7 million days. What’s more, the cost of lost productivity due to a stressful work environment is staggering. It totals $500 billion annually.

An in-depth survey done in 2017 by Mental Health America noted that overstressed people add to unhappiness in the workplace, which has an indirect effect on everyone else. That means that stressed-out people who dread coming to work contribute to productivity losses. Those losses are often not reflected in the calculated numbers, so that annual cost figure could actually be higher.

We know stress affects us emotionally. It can lead to disorders such as anxiety and depression. But stress has a negative effect on us physically as well. According to the American Institute of Stress, there are few diseases in which stress doesn’t play an aggravating role. Some of the conditions linked to stress are heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and an increased susceptibility to infections. To learn more about the symptoms and effects of stress, read this.

Reducing stress at work can be challenging, but it’s important for your mental and physical health. There are many articles on the net with helpful tips, and this is one of them. Among the tips in is this article are: try medication and contemplation, balance your work and professional lives, learn to say “no,” and write down and remember the things that you’re grateful for.

There’s so much more to know about workplace safety, but your best bet is to be aware. Know your surroundings, take the proper precautions and always be safety-conscious.

Suffering from shin splints?

May 7th, 2018

It’s not just fitness fanatics adamant about getting in their daily jog who are in danger of developing shin splints. Anyone who has flat feet, poorly fitting shoes or weak ankles, hips or core muscles are susceptible to shin splints as well.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Referred to by some doctors as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints usually develop as a result of continuous force being applied to the shin bone (tibia) and the connective tissue that attaches the shin bone to the muscles around it.

That continuous force can lead to a swelling of the muscles around the tibia. When those muscles are swollen, more pressure is applied to the tibia and the result can be a variety of symptoms, most of which are more annoying than anything else.

For example, someone suffering from shin splints may feel nothing more than a dull ache in their shins or a swelling in the lower leg. Others, however, may experience sharp, jabbing pains in and around their shin during exercise or numbness in their feet.

In more severe cases, the shin of someone suffering from shin splints may feel hot or painful to the touch, the lower part of their legs may feel weak, or they may experience prolonged bone or muscle pain in the lower leg and calf.

In those more severe cases, some of which are the cause of small cracks or fractures in the bone, it may be best to consult a doctor. In most cases, however, shin splints can usually be treated by adhering to some common treatment methods.

The most effective treatment method is rest – and lots of it. Depending on the cause of your shin splints, the time needed to recover properly can be anywhere from three to six months. In less severe cases, however, a few weeks of rest may do the trick.

That may seem like a lot, particularly for a workout warrior type who is accustomed to hitting the gym three or more times a week or running every day, but there are other activities that can be done to maintain good fitness while shin splints are healing.

Riding a bike, swimming or using an elliptical machine provides many of the same cardiovascular benefits that running does, and none of those activities put the same degree of stress on the legs that running does.

In addition to rest, icing the area of the leg that is painful or uncomfortable for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a day until the pain is gone helps to reduce the bothersome effects of shins splints, too.

As is the case with a lot of aches and pains, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin if your doctor allows it will further advance the healing process as well.

With extensive use of all the above, though, some side effects such as bleeding and ulcers can develop. Always be sure to follow label directions specifically when using those over-the-counter aids and if possible consult your doctor before taking them.

Finally, for those whose shin splints are more a result of physical issues such as flat feet or poor-fitting footwear, the use of orthotic shoe inserts or a better fitting pair of shoes can make all the difference in the world.

You’ll know your shin splints are gone when you resume whatever constitutes normal activity and you can apply pressure to the area that used to hurt without feeling pain or run and jump without feeling any pain in or around the shins.

Prior to that, though, strengthening your core muscles and the area around your hips and increasing your intake of foods such as milk and yogurt that are high in calcium and Vitamin D can help prevent shin splints from coming back.

Remember, it’s not just weekend warriors and fitness fanatics who get shin splints. Anyone can get them. The good news is that no one has to suffer from them for very long.

Wear Red on Feb. 2 to Support Women’s Heart Health

February 1st, 2018

Supporters of the Go Red for Women movement hope to see a sea of scarlet on Feb. 2 as part of the American Heart Association‘s national effort to end heart disease and stroke in women.

The annual observance was created in 2004 and adopted the red dress as its symbol. The campaign advocates for more research and awareness of the often-overlooked fact that heart disease isn’t just a health hazard for older men. It’s the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.

While chest pain, shortness of breath and cold sweats are obvious symptoms, a heart attack can happen without the person even knowing it. Those suffering a so-called “silent” heart attack sometimes pass off their symptoms as indigestion, the flu, asthma, anxiety, a strained muscle or some other condition.

What’s more, they may feel discomfort in their jaw, upper back or arms instead of their chest. Fatigue that’s prolonged, excessive and can’t be explained also may be a symptom of a silent heart attack.

Scarring and damage to the heart from such an attack can put the patient at greater risk of other heart issues.

A silent heart attack happens when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries and blocks the flow of blood. Risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and age.

Everyone knows what feels normal for them, so people should listen to their bodies and consult a doctor if something isn’t right. Those who suspect they’re having a heart attack should stay calm, call 911 immediately and be vocal when they get to the hospital about what’s going on. If they can’t speak up for themselves, they should bring along someone who will do it for them.

Another health challenge for both women and men is atherosclerosis, often called hardening of the arteries. It’s caused by a buildup of plaque – cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fatty substances – in the inner lining of an artery. Atherosclerosis typically starts in childhood and often progresses as people age.

Family history, high cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke, excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle and diabetes can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Plaque is especially dangerous when it becomes fragile and ruptures, causing blood clots to form. Those can break off and travel elsewhere in the body. Clots can cause a heart attack or a stroke if they block blood vessels to the heart or brain.

Knowledge is power, and 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes, the heart association says.

On Feb. 2, and throughout the year, women are encouraged to “go red” by following an exercise routine, eating more healthful foods, visiting a doctor for a regular checkup or tests when necessary and educating others about heart health.

For more information, go online to www.goredforwomen.org.

Waist Size and Fitness Data

May 22nd, 2017

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com. #000006162962It’s easy to get obsessed with personal numbers these days. Put on a wearable like a Fitbit and see what I mean. The devices track your number of steps during the day, gauge your heartbeat, and record the amount of time you’ve slept at night. They can log your walking routes, with maps, and reveal how fast your feet were really moving.

You can sync to an app that records the calories you take in, for more fun with numbers. (Warning: if you’re trying to lose weight, the daily summary may be less encouraging on days you eat more. You might get something like this: “If every day were like today, you’ll reach your goal by April 18, 2022.” No consolation added if your big reunion is six months away.)

Of course, doctors will remind you that losing extra weight isn’t just about wearing a smaller dress size. The big payoff is better health.

In that regard, if you like tracking your progress in losing weight and getting fit, you might want to try using one of the simple health-screening tools that gauge risk for conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

The health-screening methods – that use BMI, waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio – are based on research that shows body size and shape influences risk of certain diseases.

And they’re pretty simple. All you’ll need to get started is a scale and cloth measuring tape. Once you know where you stand, working toward “low risk” is another goal to strive for.

1. BMI: You’ve probably heard of body mass index, or BMI. The index categorizes people in ranges from normal to super obese. BMI is a formula that includes a ratio of weight and height. The easiest way to crunch the numbers is to use an online BMI calculator, such as this one.

Risk of poorer health goes up for people with BMIs that indicate they are overweight. It climbs higher still for those in the obese category.

A warning, though: For people who are lean and muscular, there may be a hitch. Their BMI can indicate “overweight” or “obese” when they aren’t. This is because muscle weighs more than fat, so their total weight is higher. They aren’t fat, but the BMI formula doesn’t distinguish between toned muscles and flab.

2. Waist circumference: How big is your middle? Where you carry extra weight makes a difference, according to obesity researchers.

It’s a matter of being shaped like an apple or a pear.

The apple-shaped have bellies that are bigger than their hips. Any extra pounds tend to pile up on their waistlines. It’s the opposite for people who are pear-shaped. Extra weight likes to go to their hips and thighs.

Women are more likely to be pear-shaped – until they reach menopause when hormone levels change and weight gain heads for the abdomen.

People who are apples tend to be more at risk for certain health conditions. Their expanded bellies indicate visceral fat. This type of fat lies deeper within the abdominal cavity and has been linked to conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Optimal numbers are based on gender, and individual height and weight doesn’t matter. Ideally, women need to keep their waists to 35 inches or less. The benchmark for men is 40 inches or less.

A screening chart from the National Institutes of Health combines BMI and waist circumference and shows how an apple shape raises health risks. Look at the chart and you’ll see how a BMI that indicates “overweight” puts you at increased risk. Combine “overweight” with a higher-than-optimal waist measurement and the level jumps to high risk.

3. Waist-to-hip ratio:

The size of your waist in relationship to your hips is another simple screening tool for future health risks.

For instance, a British medical study looked at waist-to-hip ratio and how it relates to heart disease. Have a big waistline and comparably big hips? That could be less of a risk factor than having a big stomach and small hips, according to the study.

Again, it’s about too much abdominal fat. In the study, researchers suggest that abdominal fat might alter hormones in a way that increases risk of heart disease. A large waistline in proportion to hips also has been shown to increase risk of uterine cancer, and has long been linked to Type 2 diabetes.

To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, measure your waistline and your hips. Divide the waistline measurement by the hip measurement – or go online for a waist-to-hip ratio calculator.

Ideally, results should be less than 0.85 for women and less than 0.9 for men, according to the World Health Organization.

Happy tracking!

Counting Your Steps

December 14th, 2016

Public Domain Image

Is a fitness tracker on your wish list this year? The wearable technology gadgets seem to be on wrists everywhere, so you’ll have lots of company. In 2019, about one-in-five people in the United States use a smart watch or a fitness tracker.

Fitness trackers count steps and calorie burn. They can show how many hours you actually slept. Some measure heart rate and estimate oxygen uptake. All from wearing what looks like a rubber bracelet.

Keeping up with all that data can be addictive. I’ve seen people jumpstart exercise habits because they “have to” walk so many steps per day. They can’t stand to see lagging numbers on their trackers.

On the other hand, fitness trackers may be the new gym membership. People often quit wearing the devices after a few months. It’s the same with gyms. Go to a health club in January and it’s likely to be packed. By spring, the crowd will have thinned.

Fitness trackers may be a high-tech phenomenon, but they are rooted in an old and simple idea. It started in Japan in the mid-1960s when a company marketed a pedometer for walking 10,000 steps a day. That number is the equivalent of about five miles and the notion spread: 10,000 daily steps became a common benchmark for the right amount of exercise for good health.

In The Step Diet: Count Steps, Not Calories to Lose Weight and Keep it Off, author James O. Hill suggests starting with a baseline for determining your daily step target.

For a few days, walk like you normally do and see how many steps you’re taking in an average day. If you’re like many people who are basically sedentary, you’ll probably be shocked to see how few steps you actually take.

Once you have your baseline, start adding 2,000 more steps and work your way up to 10,000. (Dr. Hill also suggests cutting back on your usual portion sizes by 25 percent. Between less food and more walking, you’re likely to lose weight.)

When Dr. Hill’s book was published in 2004, step-counters tended to be inexpensive plastic gadgets that hooked to a waistband. The difference between step-counters and today’s fitness trackers is kind of like dial phones vs. smart phones.

But the concept is the same.

Meanwhile, here are some tips from the Cleveland Clinic about getting started with a fitness tracker:

  • Be honest: Input your correct weight, age, daily food intake and other variables for best results.
  • Wear it regularly: All-day use, from morning till bedtime, is preferable.
  • Pick the right device: There are many types of fitness trackers, including ones made for specific fitness routines like running. Find one with the features, price and wearability that work for you.
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