May 2019

 

 

THE BODY FAT FACTOR

 

 

Everything you need to know about what it is, how it impacts your

health and what to do about it.

 

The number on the scale does not define you.  And it might not even tell you that much about your health, either.  What may be more important: body-fat percentage.  For years, doctors have used body mass index, or BMI, to assess your risk for obesity-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes.  It measures size based on height and weight.  Body fat, on the other hand, is quantified as a percentage of your total weight.  And recently, researchers have noticed that this number tracks more closely with your odds of developing these health problems than does BMI.  That’s because body fat, or adipose tissue, does more than just sit on your frame.  It generates inflammatory hormones and proteins in your body, which in turn can cause a host of health issues.  Where it accumulates influences health too.  Body fat stored in the midsection around your internal organs, called visceral fat, generates more harmful inflammatory compounds compared to adipose tissue in other areas, like the hips and thighs.  Fortunately, where fat settles is also where it comes off first.

And there’s another reason body fat may be a more useful measure of health than overall weight.  While BMI is supposed to also estimate body fat, it has a serious shortcoming: it doesn’t distinguish between adipose tissue (which is relatively light) and other (naturally weightier) body parts, like your muscles, bones and organs.  This means it’s possible to have a healthy BMI (defined as a score of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2) but a too-high percentage of body fat. In fact, 64% of people with normal BMIs have unhealthy levels of adipose tissue, commonly defined as 25% or more of total body weight for men and 35% or higher for women.  The opposite if also true (though less common): you can have a lot of lean muscle and low-fat stores but technically register as having an unhealthy BMI. 

If you’re wondering how much adipose tissue you have, one of the simplest ways to find out is to measure your waist at naval height.  Measures of 35 inches or less for women and 40 inches or less for men are associated with healthy levels of body fat.   Many gyms and physicians’ office have scales and other equipment that can gauge your body fat percentage.  Experts don’t recommend going by a home scale because they can be wildly inaccurate.  If your percentage turns out to be too high, know that losing even an inch or two from your middle can help lower the inflammation that spurs on disease.  Here are 3 proven ways to help get excess fat off your frame:

 

Pump Some Iron.  Next time you work out, don’t just spend all your time on the treadmill; wander over to the weights.  Those who lift and do cardio lose twice as much abdominal fat compared to those who just did aerobic exercise.  No weights?   No problem.  Get stronger with just your body.  Try the app Freeletics for equipment-free workouts.  www.freeletics.com

Move More, Period.  Not a fan of strength training?  That’s ok.  Any activity increase helps.  Active people have about 2% less body fat than couch potatoes. And total daily activity, not just gym time counts, so even things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator make a difference.

Go Mediterranean.  Those who ate a Mediterranean diet: rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, legumes and monounsaturated fats had waists that were nearly an inch and a half smaller compared to those who followed more of a standard American way of eating (more red and processed meats and less produce, fish and nuts).  This translates to about a 4-pound difference in body fat.  The fiber in those fruits and vegetables feeds your gut microbiome, which sets off a fat-zapping chain of events: gut bacteria turn fiber into short-chain fatty acids, which activate your metabolism and put your body into fat-burning mode.  Plus, this diet is anti-inflammatory, which can help protect against the negative impacts of higher body fat.

Cindy Kuzma

**See May’s upcoming newsletter for more information about BMI and body fat!