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  Health & Fitness Retreats

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The previously popular BMI measurement has been shown to not only be difficult for many people to work out, but is also inaccurate.  

This is because it relies on the ratio between your height and waist so it fails to take in to account different body types.  For instance, someone carrying a lot of muscle will weigh heavier and therefore have a higher BMI which may then indicate obesity when in fact their body fat level could be very low.  On the other hand, someone with very fine bones and very low muscle levels could have a rather high body fat proportion and still show an apparently healthy BMI.

Different ethnic groups are particularly affected by this, with those from an Asian genetic background commonly being advised to pursue a lower BMI than those of Corcasian descent.  This just adds to the confusion.

Waist measurement: your best measure of health and fitness

If you want to know if you are healthy weight, you can probably tell just by looking in the mirror! However, many of us are confused by the sterotypes portrayed in the popular media or by the plethora of information available from magazines and websites.  The proven easiest way to know if you are carrying more than a healthy level of fat is the size of your waistline.

The importance of reducing abdominal fat

Best and easiest assessment of fat levels and health: compare your waist size to your height

By simply measuring your waist and comparing it to your height, you can quickly tell if you are carrying too much abdominal fat - the biggest risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other obesity related diseases.  

Again, someone who is relatively tall and appears quite lanky, could have a lot of weight around their middle - classic pot belly, and still show a supposedly healthy BMI.  Read more about why abdominal fat is the riskiest.

The comparison to your height is important.  It may sound unfair but if you are shorter, all your body proportions should be smaller than for a taller person!

So, simply measure your height and your waist and compare the two.  Your waist measurement should be less than half your height. 

So for a six foot man, his height in inches is 72 inches and so his waist should be less than 36 inches.

With the metric system: The same man is 182cm high, so his waist should be less than 91cm.

For a five foot four woman, her height is 64 inches, so her waist should be less than 32 inches.

With the metric system: The same woman is 162cm high and so her waist should be less than 81cm.

First find the top of your hip bones (these are actually, technically, your pelvic bones, but most people refer to them as the hips). Place both hands on your hips, at the sides of your body, not at the front. Prod with side of your hands and thumbs to identify the highest parts of your hip bones.  

Then find the bottom of your ribs.  Slide your hands up a couple of inches (few centimeters) and find the your lowest ribs.

You want to place your tape measure around your waist about halfway between the top of your hips and your lowest ribs.

Now take a couple of easy breaths in and out and then tighten the tape measure so that it is firm and level but not pressing the skin in and not restricting your breathing.  Your stomach should be relaxed, not sucked in but also not pushed out.

Take your waist measurement.

Next measure your height.  

References:

1. de Koning L, Merchant AT, Pogue J, Anand SS. Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio as predictors of cardiovascular events: meta-regression analysis of prospective studies. Eur.Heart J. 2007;28:850-6.

2. Qiao Q, Nyamdorj R. Is the association of type II diabetes with waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio stronger than that with body mass index? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009.

3. Zwierzchowska A, Głowacz M et al. The Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference as Predictors Of Body Composition in Post CSCI Wheelchair Rugby Players (Preliminary Investigations). .J Hum Kinet. 2014 Nov 12;43:191-8.

Why BMI is not the best measure of fat levels or health

How to measure your waist:

How to measure your height:

For this, unless you are lucky enough to have access to a proper measuring stick (and remember you can always pop into your GP/practice nurse and ask them to measure you) you really need a partner to help.

If you have a spirit level, this is ideal.  Stand next to a wall without shoes and with your heels against the wall and your head resting lightly against the wall, taking care to keep your head and chin level - not to tip your head up or down.  

Your partner rests the spirit level on the top of your head and slides it towards the wall, finds the level point and makes a mark level with the underside of the spirit level.  Measure from ground to your point for your height measurement.

If you don’t have a spirit level, take a large hardback book. Your partner rests it on top of you head and then slides it towards the wall, keeping it as level as possible by eye.  Mark the point level with the underside of the book.  Measure from the ground to your point for your height measurement.

Weight as a measure of fat loss is notoriously inaccurate on a short time scale.

Your weight will fluctuate on an hourly and daily level depending on what and how much you have eaten and drunk (simply because when you eat or drink, you immediately add that mass to your body - a pint of water will add half a kilo to your body weight), when you last went to the toilet, what you ate (carbohydrates require water for their metabolism and so will make you retain water - about 3g of water for every 1g of carbohydrate) and how salty the food was (salt also makes you retain water, your hormone levels (relatively high oestrogen or testosterone levels tends to lead to water retention). And, as ever for women, the stage of your menstrual cycle.

However many people like to use weight as a guide, but it is best limited to no more than once a week.

Why Weight is not the best measure of fat levels

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