Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Body Composition - What is Healthy?

Since the 1980's the amount of obese people worldwide has doubled. 10% of men and 14% of women are considered to be obese, which translates to 205 million men and 297 million women. 1.5 billion people are considered to be overweight. With all of the advances in technology, and the convenience of fast food, it's no wonder that more people are spending less time exercising, and more time sitting at a computer.

How do I know if I'm at a healthy level?

There are several common body-composition tests that can determine the ratio of an individual's weight and fat percentages.

The most commonly used test is the BMI. A healthy range to be at is 18-24. Anything over 25 is considered overweight and over 30 is considered obese. Under 18 is considered underweight, which is also unhealthy.

The easiest way to calculate your BMI is to take your weight in pounds, multiply that by 703. Take that number and divide it by your height in inches squared. For example, I weigh 122 lbs and am 5'4" which equals 64.8 inches. Take my weight and multiply by 703 (122*703=85766), then square my height (64.8*64.8= 4199.04). Then divide (85766/4199.04=20.4 BMI). 20.4 BMI is in the healthy range. This is a very easy way to calculate your BMI but the downside is that it does not determine how much is lean-body mass and how much is fat mass.

Another method for determining body composition is the underwater (hydrostatic) weighing. This is the most accurate of all assessments, but is not practical. This method was based on Archimedes' principle that states "when a body is submerged in water, there is a buoyant counter force equal to the weight of the water which is displaced." Basically, body fat will float so the lighter a person is under water, the larger percentage of body fat they have. This is the most accurate of the assessments with a 2.5% error rate. If this is something you want to do, I must warn you that it can be very expensive. There are not many places that offer this test, but some that do are universities and research institutions.

The third assessment is the skin-fold measurement. This is frequently used in a gym or a health club to determine body composition. There are 4 skin fold sites that are used to determine body composition. All should be done on the same side of the body for consistency. A vertical fold on the front of the upper arm (bicep), a vertical fold on the back of the upper arm (tricep), a 45-degree angle fold below the inferior angle of the scapula (subscapular) and a 45-degree angle above the iliac crest. The assessor will take the measurements using a skin-fold caliper that pinches the folds and determines the amount of subcutaneous fat. This is a very accurate method, with a 3.5% error.

The last assessment is the bioelectrical impedance. For this test, sensors are applied to the skin throughout the body and a weak electrical current is run through the body to estimate body fat and lean body mass. This method is used because fat is a less efficient conductor of electricity than lean body mass. The faster the conduction, the leaner the individual is. This is the least accurate of all of the assessments and can be off by nearly 10% depending on the quality of the equipment used.

I did the test, now what?

If it is determined that you are at an unhealthy body composition level, the first thing to do is look at your daily routine. If you sit at a desk all day for work, and come home and sit at a computer or watch tv until bed, there are things you can do to break up all of that sitting. Studies have shown that people who sit for 6 hours or more, are more overweight and are at a higher risk for heart and other health problems. If you are sitting for most of the day, one thing you can do is get up and take a lap or two around the office or around the block by your home. Doing this a couple of times a day will not only help you lose inches, but will keep you awake and help you focus more on what you are working on. During lunch breaks, walk rather than drive, and get a subway sandwich rather than a burger.

There is also "desk yoga" that is very beneficial. Here is an article that specifies certain poses and stretches you can do, and how to do them:

Doing the desk yoga will also help alleviate lower back pain that is associated with sitting for long periods of time.
If you prefer to save any exercise for when you get home, I would suggest starting with a core workout or yoga. Beginning Pilates is a great way to build up your core and stabilization which will also help with back pain. Here are some great videos you can get to help you out:  Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners, Pilates For Beginners (3 DVD Set),  Yoga For Beginners, Yoga For Beginners (3 DVD Box Set)

I started with Pilates For Beginners (3 DVD Set) nearly a year ago (before I became a couch potato). It's a fun way to get off the couch and away from the computer and start becoming healthy.

Tip of the day - Get off your butt! Periodic activity throughout the day will reduce your risk of heart and health problems. Take 5-10 minute breaks several times a day and stretch or walk to get your blood flowing and skip the coffee :)

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