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Better health numbers for 2010

Better health numbers for 2010
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First Published: Mon, Jan 11 2010. 08 39 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Jan 11 2010. 08 39 PM IST
Resolve to do things differently this year. For starters, stop relying on a weighing scale. Instead, adopt two healthier numbers: waist-hip ratio (WHR) and body fat percentage score.
Weight isn’t a good measure
The number on your weighing scale has limited application. It merely reflects the total value of muscle, bone, fat and water you consist of at a given point in time. Simple totals never tell an accurate health story. They cannot describe the myriad interactions in your body every second of the day, say how much of your weight is muscle or fat, or how strong your bones are. Or indicate that if you have more than 30% body fat, even if your weight is normal, you are obese.
With health, the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. Healthier standards such as WHR and body fat percentage represent this greater whole. They reflect the exponential health effects generated by the body’s intricate and vast hormonal chemistry; effects that are largely regulated by the proportions of muscle and fat that make up your body.
The ideal waist-hip ratio
Wrap a measuring tape around your waist just above the belly button, and then around the widest part of your hip. Divide the waist measure by the hip measure to get your WHR. So if your waist measures 85cm and hips 95cm, your WHR is 85 divided by 95, or 0.89. For women, a healthy WHR range is 0.7-0.8; for men, it is 0.85-1. If you find yourself complaining about love handles, a muffin top, pot belly or beer belly even though your weight and body mass index (BMI, a height-weight ratio) are ideal, chances are your WHR is high.
Too much fat in the abdominal region increases the risk of a cluster of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes (called metabolic syndrome). So gear up for the optimal WHR challenge this year: 0.7 for women and 0.9 for men. These scores give you optimal health advantages: greater fertility; reduced risk of heart attack, diabetes, ovarian and prostate cancers; and for women, easier menopause.
How much fat is fit?
Measuring health: That’s not just your dress size, but your diabetes risk too.
Your body fat percentage is the one score to diet for. Body fat in excess of 30% of body weight in a woman and 26% in a man has but one goal: to manufacture more fat! It does this by altering hormonal and chemical interactions, making you feel lethargic and hungry all the time.
For instance, excessive fat makes you resistant to insulin, which triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin. Insulin transports blood sugar from the blood to the muscles and brain to help you do things—blink, think, run and curl your biceps. Over time, excess insulin increases WHR, diabetes and heart disease risk. It also keeps you hungry and craving for sweets. It could cause dry skin, dandruff, acne, dark patches at the back of the neck, skin tags (a benign skin growth), irregular menstrual cycles, high blood pressure, mood swings and more.
Unlike fat, muscle tissue helps you feel vital and youthful. Muscle burns 50-100 calories per kg of body weight per day and fat merely 4 calories per kg per day. Clearly, muscle is metabolically active and fat is not. Thus more muscle and less fat translates into a higher metabolic rate, more energy, therefore more activity and fat loss.
Body composition assessments that use bioimpedance (the different resistance of various body tissues to mild electrical currents) provide your body fat percentage score as well as quantities of muscle, bone and water that you have. The technology is non-invasive, very reliable, and many weight-loss centres and gyms have the machines. In accuracy they come closest to the DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan, the gold standard for body composition assessments, done in hospitals for bone density checks, etc., usually only once in two years.
New year, new measures
Set new internal health targets this year. Make your WHR and body composition scores count. What you weigh when these goals are achieved is your ideal weight. And unlike BMI tables, they can tell your health story—one of youthful energy, enviable mirror images and freedom from disease risks.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutrition specialist, functional health and Pilates expert, and founder, HALF, Mumbai’s first functional health studio.
Write to Madhuri at dietdesk@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Jan 11 2010. 08 39 PM IST