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Which is healthier for seniors - low fat or low fitness?

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Years ago, being fat was a sign of healthy means, healthy appetite, and happiness. While obesity can put you at high risk for chronic heart disease and premature death, it’s not always the best indicator of good health. Yet the good ol’ boys in medicine, insurance companies, and regulatory agencies use the good ol’ BMI to determine how healthy you are at a glance.

What is BMI?

BMI stands for Body Mass Index. I say the “good ol’ BMI” because the formula used today in doctors’ offices worldwide is the very same one first developed in 1832 by Adolphe Quetelet, Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician and sociologist. His formula takes a patient’s weight divided by the square of the patient’s height, and this results in the BMI. A BMI below 18.5 indicates the patient is underweight; 18/5 - 24.9 is normal; 25 – 29.9 is overweight; 30 and over indicates obesity. According to world standards for obesity, we're heavier than we acknowledge.

So what’s the purpose of the BMI?

Today, the BMI is used by physicians to measure health and identify potential risk, by insurance companies to set premiums, and by drug companies to sell weight loss drugs. Purportedly to determine a person’s health, modern studies show that these indicators are pretty much arbitrary and not all they're cracked up to be because they don’t factor in age, environment, societal norms, etc. The fact is that some people who are overweight are less at risk than others with lower BMI. Principal funders of the various organizations who support use of BMI include diet drug manufacturers. The reality is that the BMI is a good tool, but not the bible. Studies show that what's considered risky for some is healthy for others.

Obesity screening

Of late, the Obesity Society has put forth an equally or more reliable metabolic health and heart disease indicator. By taking the circumference of your waist relative to your hips. The higher the ratio, the higher the amount of belly fat, known to be a reliable indicator of metabolic and heart disease. This kind of test is somewhat more intrusive, requiring physicians to actually interact with their patients by putting their arms around their middles to take measurements.

Alternative measure

As helpful as these measures and tests are, the question we should be asking is, "Is BMI, obesity, fat content the best measure of health and risks?” The answer is, not really.

Studies show that one’s level of activity may be a better indicator of health and fitness than one’s “fat”content. “There was a strong inverse association between exercise capacity and mortality in this cohort of men with documented diabetes, and this relationship was independent of BMI,” said one of the researchers. “It appears that it is more important to avoid low fitness than it is to avoid fatness.”

Moral of the story:

Exercise more, eat less – for the health of it.

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