#305 Is Thin Still In?

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"No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain
is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you
could do is run for public office."

George Bernard Shaw

8 Ways to Know If You're Fit

By Steve Edwards

Fit and FatA major health headline this week was a study dispelling the notion that you can be both fit and fat. Last fall, the wires were abuzz with citations about the dangers of being thin and fat (so-called "skinny fat"). With a national obesity rate of nearly 30 percent, we know that we're overweight. But if thin isn't the indicator of fitness, and you can't be large and fit, how are we supposed to tell if we're healthy? Let's decipher what these studies indicate and sort through the murkiness about what it really means to be fit.

Can you be fit and fat?

The latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported a study of 39,000 women that suggested that fitness isn't the only indication of one's risk for developing heart disease. The subjects were between 50 and 60 years old and were tracked for 11 years. Nearly 1,000 got sick. The study showed that overweight women had a 54-percent greater risk of developing heart disease than those with similar exercise patterns who were not considered overweight. It also concluded that women who exercised, heavy or not, were two-and-a-half times less likely to get heart disease.

Measuring Your Body FatHowever, the study wasn't fastidious in its parameters. It relied on self-reporting and used the BMI (body mass index) scale, rather than actual fitness tests, to determine the subjects' fitness levels. This is where the study becomes questionable.

We tend to like things that come in simple-to-understand terms. Therefore, the government decided that we'd use the BMI scale to decide how healthy we are. It simply assigns you a number based on your height and your weight, leaving out such trivialities as lean muscle mass, body fat, basal metabolic rate, and other medical parameters. You may surmise that we all come in different shapes and sizes, so something as simple as BMI could be inaccurate. Your hunch would be correct.

While BMI can be a decent indicator across similar groups of people, it doesn't account for athletic body types. Using the BMI scale, almost every wrestler, bodybuilder, and NFL player would be classified as obese. And while heavier people, fit or not, induce more strain on their hearts, there are many other factors to consider prior to categorizing them as being vulnerable to health risks. Without knowing these other factors, it's difficult to make hard conclusions, especially when you consider that those with lower BMI numbers may be "skinny fat."

BMI Scale

At least it was clear that those who exercised, whether heavy or not, greatly reduced their risk. The conclusions of the study seemed to miss out on something very interesting—a comparison between thin women who didn't exercise and heavy women who did.

Can you be skinny and fat?

Trying to answer the above question, we'll refer to a study from London's Imperial College showing that those who appear skinny to the naked eye but are unfit are still at risk to a rash of health problems.

Body FatSince 1994, Dr. Jimmy Bell and his team conducted MRIs on nearly 800 people, creating "fat maps" that show where they store fat. As it turns out, people who don't maintain their weight with a combination of exercise and diet keep huge fat deposits around their internal organs. The scientists theorized that excessive inner fat can confuse the body's communication systems, leading to heart disease, insulin resistance, or type 2 diabetes.

Again, fat and active people had a much lower mortality rate than the skinny and sedentary. This means that, as far as your health is concerned, a fitness test is a much better indicator than a scale or what size dress you fit into. As Bell explained to the Associated Press, "The whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined."

What does it mean to be fit?

Webster's tells us that fitness is "the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms"; Dr. Fred Hatfield, in his book Fitness: The Complete Guide, gives us a more layman's view by defining it as: "Your ability to meet the exigencies of your lifestyle with ease and room to spare for life's little emergencies." Both definitions refer to functioning in the present as the main indicator, meaning that all these studies on heart disease in aging individuals probably aren't even the best bases to use to make conclusions about an individual's state of fitness.

Fitness is, in the simplest terms, your ability to perform in the world. We all have different goals and agendas and, in the end, we're all going to die. But there are a few things that we all share, no matter what kind of life we lead. If we consider the eight parameters below, and if we can perform them decently, we can consider ourselves to be fit. And, more than anything else, a fit life is probably a lot more fun than a non-fit one.

  1. Body-fat percentage. This is the percentage of your total body weight that is composed of fat. Ten percent to 14 percent is considered good for men, and 14 percent to 18 percent is considered good for women. Unless you're a weight-dependent athlete or a fitness model, you don't need to go to extremes, but all of us should strive to be within this range. Being far under it has health risks too but going above it is what most of us need to worry about—and what the obesity epidemic sweeping the world is focused on. Not only does excess weight put our bodies under extra strain, but excessive amounts of fat change our abilities to function properly. So far more than your weight, you should be focusing on keeping your body-fat percentage within this range.

  2. RunningAerobic endurance. This is how efficiently your body transports oxygen. It's a baseline fitness parameter that aids every more intensive fitness effort, from yard work to sex to running a marathon. Indicators of good aerobic fitness are a low resting heart rate and the ability to recover quickly after cardiovascular activity. You help increase this endurance by doing any type of activity but more efficiently when you do continuous low-level activity, like hiking or jogging.

  3. Muscle mass. Like body fat, our bodies require a certain percentage of muscle to stay healthy. This varies per individual, but we all need muscle to meet the tasks of daily living. Above the age of 30, our bodies lose muscle mass each year, so it's important to do resistance exercise to keep muscle mass. Besides aiding movement, muscle mass protects our organs and skeletal structures. To age gracefully, it's vital to keep our muscle mass percentages high.

  4. YogaFlexibility. This isn't the ability to do pretzel-ish yoga movements but simply your ability to move your body freely through a full range of motion. It's important that we stretch our muscles because they contract during exercise and the daily rigors of living. Keeping your muscles supple gives you a buffer against being injured and is an indicator of overall fitness. It will help you age without as many complications.

  5. Strength. Strength is the ability to use your muscles to generate force. It's often defined in more specific terms, like limit, starting, or explosive strength, but they're all a variation on the same theme—your body needs to be able to move stuff around. Most importantly, it needs to move you around. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength. Mass protects your body. Strength moves it and keeps it from falling over. Furthermore, strength training requires short bouts of high-intensity outputs. These stimulate hormonal responses that also decline as we age. In a nutshell, strength training slows the aging process. The stronger you are, the slower you age.

  6. Static balance. This is your ability to maintain control of your body's center of gravity over your base of support. The importance of this ability is obvious, since life's no fun if you're always toppling over. It requires use of all of the aforementioned factors, and the best way to get it is to practice. What's really important is that to stay in balance your body uses smaller muscles, called stabilizer muscles (the large ones you see are called prime mover muscles); and these help keep your joints tracking properly. A person with good balance has less chance of incurring an injury, especially an injury due to overuse.

  7. Dynamic balance. This is the same as the above, except you control your center of gravity while in motion or in flight. The eccentric motions created in practicing dynamic balance not only stimulate hormonal responses but fire something called high-threshold muscle cell motor units. It's important to train dynamic balance as you age and, symbiotically, training this action helps keep you young.

  8. P90X®Agility. This is your ability to move dynamically in different directions quickly and randomly. It requires that you use starting strength, explosive strength, limit strength, and dynamic balance in combination, so all of those areas must be conditioned. Plyometric training, like that incorporated into Tony Horton's P90X®, in combination with stretching, helps you stay agile as you age.

Related Articles
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Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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What Is Your Body Mass Index?

By Jude Buglewicz

Overweight PeopleIt's no secret that the U.S. is one of the fattest nations in the world: 66.3 percent of Americans over 20 years old are overweight or obese (about 140 million); 32 percent are obese (67 million); and almost 5 percent (9 million) are morbidly obese. Among adolescents 12 to 19 years old, over 17 percent are overweight (over 12.5 million)—16 percent are girls and 18.2 percent are boys. But what exactly do the terms "overweight," "obese," and "morbidly obese" mean, and why should these distinctions matter to you?

The standard definitions as used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) (and most social science and medical journals that rely on the data from those organizations) are based on body mass index (BMI) levels. This is a calculation using your height and your weight.

Calculate your BMI

Tape MeasureMetric formula. Divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared: weight (kg)/height squared (m2).

NIH method. If you prefer good ole American pounds and inches, multiply your weight (in pounds) by 704.5. Divide that by your height (in inches). Then divide that number again by your height (in inches): weight (lbs.) x 704.5/height (inches)/height (inches).

Which group are you in?

Normal weight – BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. Nonsmokers in this range have the lowest risk of disease and premature death.

Overweight – BMI of 25 or more. This group has an increased risk of weight-related medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

ScaleObese – BMI of 30 or more (at least 30 pounds overweight). Below are some statistics associated with this group.

- 67 million Americans (32 percent of adults)
- Women: 36 million (33 percent)
- Men: 32 million (31 percent)
- The number of obese American adults doubled in the last 20 years.
- Weight-related medical problems increase sharply for this group: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, gall bladder disease, high blood pressure (twice as common as for people at a healthy weight), stroke, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, etc.
- This group has a 50-percent to 100-percent increased risk of premature death from all causes.

Morbidly obese – BMI of 40 or more (typically about 100 pounds overweight). Below are statistics associated with the morbidly obese group.

- 9 million Americans (almost 5 percent)
- The number of morbidly obese American adults quadrupled in the last 20 years.
- People in this group have an increased risk for a shorter life expectancy (it could be up to 20 years shorter). Death from diabetes or heart attack is 5 to 7 times greater than for non-obese people, heart disease is 6 times more common, and diabetes is 10 times more common.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics, based on 2003–2004 estimates from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), and from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Problems with BMI

Although body mass index is the most commonly used measurement of obesity, it doesn't distinguish between fat and fat-free mass, like muscle and bone. Bodybuilders and other athletes with lots of muscle (which weighs more than fat) may have high BMIs, and so they would be classified as "overweight" or "obese," though they're more likely to be healthy and fit—not fat. And older people who lose muscle mass through the aging process and then replace muscle weight with fat may still have the same height and weight, and so the same BMI number, though they'd actually be "fatter."


Because of such concerns, some researchers are pressing for more accurate ways to assess body fat, including using body fat percentage, while others argue that it's the location of body fat that's most important, not simply how much of it you have. Excessive deep abdominal fat is far worse than fat around your hips and thighs, as it is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical conditions. Your waist measurement, then, is also a gauge of your health (over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men are associated with higher disease risk).

But because BMI is so easy to determine, and because most of the research on the medical risks stemming from obesity is based on BMI data, your body mass index is a number worth knowing.

Reverse the trend!

Turbo Jam®If you're reading this, chances are you've bought a Beachbody product—perhaps P90X® or Turbo Jam® or Hip Hop Abs®—and you are on your way to a long-term healthy and fit lifestyle. Good for you! And if right now you happen to be one of the 140 million Americans who are considered overweight or obese, just keep exercising, Keep Pushing Play, and keep eating right. Below are just three benefits that you can look forward to.

  1. You'll lower your risk of heart disease or stroke by losing just 5 percent to 15 percent of your weight.

  2. You'll lower your risk of type 2 diabetes (losing 10 to 15 pounds is enough for most people, according to the American Diabetes Association).

  3. By losing 10 percent of your weight, you can have a 10-percent decrease in total cholesterol and a 40-percent decrease in obesity-related cancers.

And if you're one of the 9 million morbidly obese Americans, take heart. Have a look at the Beachbody 100 Club (not to mention the 2007 Team Beachbody Game® Grand Prize Winners), a group of dedicated individuals who've lost more than 100 pounds each, proving that regular exercise and a healthy diet can dramatically alter your life for the better. As Jenn B., 2006 Success Story, says, "I'm so much happier and healthier and I have more confidence, better posture...heck, I've got my life back! My medical conditions (constant back pain, leg pain, asthma) have fixed themselves." Amazing what you can do if you're committed.

Related Articles
"Just Eat This: A Diet for Weight Loss"
"Just Eat This: Eating for Exercise"
"10 Fitness Myths Unmasked"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Mother's Day IQ!

By Carla Lord

True or False?

  1. CarnationsFalse: The rose is the official flower of Mother's Day. Not so! 'Tis not the rose that smells so sweet on Mother's Day but the carnation. Traditionally, if one's mother is still alive, red or pink carnations are given to the special lady in bouquets or are worn on the lapel. If one's mother has passed away, white carnations are worn and/or are left at the mother's resting place.

  2. True: Mother's Day had its U.S. origins as a call for peace and disarmament. Although celebrations of mothers have been long practiced, Mother's Day, as we know it in the United States, was imported from the British "Mothering Day" by Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," in 1870. This was the year she penned the Mother's Day Proclamation as a call for peace, calling attention to the fact that many mothers were left alone without their sons or husbands due to war.

  3. Ann JarvisFalse: President Grant declared the first national Mother's Day. Actually, many decades passed between Howe's push for the Mother's Day Proclamation and the day it became recognized on a national level. President Woodrow Wilson later enacted it in 1914. Howe's idea inspired Ann Jarvis, who strove to improve sanitation during the Civil War; when she died, her own daughter, Anna Jarvis, fought in honor of her mother to have a national memorial day created for women. The first of these occasions was held on May 10, 1908; it caught on and spread throughout the nation, and 6 years later, the president made it official.

  4. True: Mother's Day is always held on the second Sunday in May. This was part of President Wilson's declaration. Not every country in the world celebrates Mother's Day the same day as the U.S. It's held in February in Norway, and in Indonesia, moms are celebrated in December. To Wilson, Mother's Day was meant as a day to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. It quickly became quite commercialized; among other ways, we celebrate our moms with flowers, chocolates and candies, and cards. In fact, just 9 years after it was inaugurated, Anna Jarvis protested the day itself because of that very commercialization.

  5. Mother and DaughterTrue: Mother's Day is the most popular "dining out" day of the year. According to the National Restaurant Association, we prefer to take our moms out for brunch, lunch, or dinner rather than treat them to a home-cooked meal. And after all those years mom spent teaching us her great cooking skills! If you take your mother out on Sunday, be sure to take her to a restaurant that offers healthy options. For those of us whose mothers are not close by, give her a call; after all, telephony records show that Mother's Day is the peak day for long-distance phone calls, too.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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