Let’s face it. American’s have a love affair with fast food and convenience and the results of decades of overeating are showing results…and they are not pretty. As a group, Americans are increasingly overweight and obese and our health is suffering as a result. According to WIN (Weight Information Control Network), 2/3 of Americans are overweight and 1/3 are considered obese. As someone who follows the news and research, the recent correlation of breast cancer recurrence (and occurrence) with being overweight or obese made me sit up and take note. If you want to read more about research in this area, check the latest news and research tab or google BMI+breast cancer or watch this story from ABC. After four surgeries + lack of activity + comfort food + holiday weight gain + needing to lose that “extra ten pounds” since my last baby (he’s now 23), it was time to do some serious readjustment of my diet. So, 30 pounds later, I feel much better, have added some smaller clothes to my wardrobe and gained an improved self image. My curiosity was getting the better of me about my BMI, so it was now time to see how “fit” I was in reality.
With BMI (body mass index) in the news and curiosity about my personal “number,” I made an appointment to have my BMI taken at River West Family Fitness, the health club where I regularly deposit my sweat. Owner Chris Hylton gave me the prep instructions: “no alcohol, no caffeine for 24 hours prior and empty your bladder before the test.” I’ll readily admit I had caffeine ingested into my system 22 hours prior to testing – so I’m confessing slightly damaged scientific test results. I gave Chris my requisite height and age and hopped on the high tech looking scale, aligning my feet onto the metal footprints. Chris pressed a button to start the test, sending some sort of non-detectible charge or signal through my body. About 30 seconds later the machine spit out a piece of paper and I was the proud owner of a BMI of 23. 7. There were some other miscellaneous stats – body fat and muscle ratios. I was a bit freaked out by how high my body fat seemed since the only other time I had this done was at the University of Minnesota by the physiology department when I was a Division I swimmer.
Flashback to the early 1980’s as a golden gopher swimmer when my body fat was carefully calculated by a team of medical professionals and coaches. First, the medical team figured out my residual volume (amount of oxygen left in my lungs after I exhaled as much as I could without passing out). Next, I was weighed under water to get the most accurate results. I vividly remember climbing into a cage-like contraption suspended at the end of the 1-meter diving board and getting lowered down underwater. Once totally submerged, I was instructed to exhale everything out of my lungs and then remain still. The scale would register a weight (fat floats, so you always wanted to weigh a lot under water) and then that figure was plugged into a formula that included my residual volume. The end of the mathematical equation was a body fat percentage. My lowest body fat percentage was 10.8% just before Big Tens my junior year. Very low indeed for a woman, but highly trained athletes were expected to be in the 10-15% range. So my body fat percentage today? Let’s just say that I’m nowhere near 10.8%, nor do I have any intension of being that low. But seeing my body fat percentage inked on my personal print out brought back vivid memories of being a guinea pig way back in the dark ages of women’s athletics.
So, what does all this mean? What is body mass index and why is it so important? First, it is a relationship of your height to your weight and composition of muscle mass to fat **. Since a link between fat and cancer has been established (estrogen receptor cancers in particular), the more fat you have on your person, the more fuel you are providing the fire that is cancer. So how do you move from fire fighting your cancer to fire prevention? The answer is to lower your body mass index to the normal range (17-26) and maintain that throughout your life. Below is from the site I am referencing the BMI calculator.
“If your BMI is between 17 to 22, your life span might be longer than average. Men are usually satisfied with a BMI of 23 to 25 and women tend to believe they look their best at values between 20 to 22.
If your BMI is between 23 and 25, most people wouldn’t consider you to be overweight. If your BMI is 26 or more, you are considered overweight and are statistically likely to have a lower life expectancy.”
So, results are in and I’m officially “normal.” My family might disagree, but at least for my BMI it is in black and white and I just might post it on the fridge as a daily reminder. Thirty pounds ago I would have fallen in the “overweight” group with a BMI of 27.6 and an increased risk of breast cancer recurrence. Small changes in my behavior (healthier food choices and smaller portion sizes plus a diligent workout regimen) have increased my odds of staying healthy. I do have one outstanding question I’m going to research which Chris couldn’t answer: How do my breast implants affect BMI? Figuring in how much they weigh and what they are made out of, does the machine read them as fat or muscle? I would think fat or liquid. If I were to factor in this deduction, would it make a measurable difference and has anybody thought about this? OK, I’ll turn off my brain and will get back to you if I find the answer.
Are you wondering what your BMI is? Click on this LINK to an online BMI calculator. I tried this calculator and my results were nearly the same as the fancy machine sans the other statistics. All you do is just type in your height and weight and it calculates your BMI number. This inexpensive way to get your current personal snapshot is ready and waiting. Once you get a number, if it is high, do something about it. Meet with your healthcare professional and trainer at the gym to get a plan in place to decrease your risk. You are given only one body and a single life to live and you are in charge of some of your risk factors. Today sounds like a good day to start, right?