Nearly everyone dreads the moment they’re asked to stand on the scale during their annual checkup. Unless you have the world’s fastest metabolism or most defined muscles, it’s likely you wish you were looking at a different number.
The standard measure: Body Mass Index
The go-to measure to figure out where you fall on the weight spectrum has traditionally been Body Mass Index (BMI), which is basically a height-to-weight ratio. Though it’s a good starting point, more and more evidence is finding the index is flawed. Researchers found many individuals classified as overweight or obese based on BMI were perfectly healthy and as many as 30% of those who fell within normal weight ranges were not really in such great shape. It’s not actually all that surprising. Trying to craft an easy formula that can accurately assess the physical condition of every person is a tall order.
Measuring tape is just as good as the scale
So now that we’ve determined it’s difficult to figure out your ideal figure, it’s time to focus on things you can do that may be useful. Men’s Health suggests resorting to a good old tape measure to determine your waist-to-hip ratio, which should be 0.9 or lower for men. For women, .85 should be the maximum. One study found increases in this ratio better predicted mortality than increases in BMI or simple waist circumference, so it’s a good number to know.
How to measure body fat percentage
If you’re bound and determined to calculate your exact percentage of body fat, you have a number of different options, which Life by Daily Burn outlines. Unfortunately, the most accurate tests are the most expensive and also involve setting up an appointment. With so much hassle, it’s not realistic to use these methods regularly. You’ll be better off if you do a preliminary test, then gauge your results further down the road.
Is being overweight OK?
Health professionals and society at large have likely told you carrying some extra weight around is not good for you. But is it really as bad as everyone thinks? According to Greatist, most diseases stem from a lack of physical activity and nutrition — not your weight. Thus far, it’s impossible to conclude your weight has much to do with your health. There are correlations to assume this, but not much evidence to prove it.
As long as you keep up with an active, healthy lifestyle, that’s really what matters — and it’ll likely put you at what your ideal weight should be, no matter what the BMI says.
Should endurance athletes strive for thinness?
Things get even more confusing once activity level comes into play because a perfectly healthy weight may feel like too much for certain athletes, particularly those who compete in endurance events. Runner’s World shared a table based on one physiologist’s findings, which indicates losing just 2 pounds can help a marathoner shave 1 minute and 45 seconds off their time. The situation is similar for cyclists.
Getting as lean as possible also isn’t always the best solution, though, because after a certain point, you’ll start to get weaker. Losing too much fat can negatively affect your heart, bones, fertility, and immune system. And for athletes, they’ll start to see decreased performance as they lose muscle mass.
Don’t forget about your mental health
All this being said, ideal weight may have very little to do with what the scale reads or how much fat is on your body. People always feel like they could shed a few pounds or gain a tad more muscle, but how you feel physically and emotionally is a lot more telling. SparkPeople sums it up best by saying you’ve reached a good point when you’re not at risk for health problems, you’re able to live the life you want, you feel comfortable in your own skin, and you don’t feel forced to compare yourself to others. Now that sounds like the ideal body.