Forget how many pounds you weigh. How healthy are you, really?
Assessing a healthy weight involves more than just examining the numbers on a scale. It requires a holistic view of your overall health and wellness. Key metrics to determine whether your weight is healthy extend beyond body composition alone, also including factors such as blood pressure, resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, cholesterol levels, and inflammation.
First, let’s delve into the various methods for evaluating body composition, including the commonly used (and dubious) Body Mass Index (BMI), Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR), and Body Fat Percentage (BFP) calculations. Each of these methods serves as a tool in assessing body composition and they all come with their own set of advantages and limitations which impact their accuracy and effectiveness.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a widely used measure for estimating body fat levels. It’s calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared (kg/m^2). Although it provides a general indication of whether an individual’s weight falls within a healthy range, its main limitation is that it doesn’t account for muscle mass. Hence, individuals with significant muscle, such as athletes, may be classified as overweight or obese despite having a low body fat percentage. Furthermore, BMI does not account for age, sex, or race – all factors that skew the accuracy of this common metric.
BMI can also be calculated with the English system by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches squared, then multiply by 703 (lb/in^2 x 703, then round to one decimal place). For example: 200(lbs) / 66(in) / 66(in) x 703 = 32.3
|18.4 or lower
|18.5 – 24.9
|25 – 29.9
Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR) and Waist-to-Height Ratio (WHtR)
These are measures of body fat distribution, a critical factor in assessing the risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. WHR compares the circumference of your waist to that of your hips, while WHtR indicates whether a person’s waist circumference is less than half their height. Both provide insights into potential health risks that BMI may overlook.
WHR = Waist Circumference (at smallest point) / Hip Circumference (at largest point)
|0.80 or lower
|0.95 or lower
WHtR = Waist Circumference (at smallest point) / Height
Ideally, this number should be lower than 0.5, which means that the circumference of your waist is less than half of your height.
|0.34 or lower
|0.34 or lower
|0.35 – 0.41
|0.35 – 0.42
|0.42 – 0.48
|0.43 – 0.52
|0.49 – 0.53
|0.53 – 0.57
|0.54 – 0.57
|0.58 – 0.62
Body Fat Percentage
At OVYVO, we determine body composition by measuring Body Fat Percentage. This is distinct from Body Mass Index (BMI), Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR), and Waist-to-Height Ratio (WHtR) in that it directly measures the proportion of the body composed of fat, providing insights into body composition rather than size or distribution alone. Unlike BMI, which calculates a ratio of weight to height and does not differentiate between muscle and fat, Body Fat Percentage distinguishes between fat mass and lean mass, offering a more nuanced view of an individual’s physique.
Body Fat Percentage considers the total mass of fat divided by total body mass. A healthy range varies based on factors such as gender and age. Body fat percentage can be measured with a variety of methods, each with different degrees of complexity and accuracy. These include…
Skinfold Calipers: This method involves pinching the skin and subcutaneous fat (the fat beneath the skin) in specific parts of the body with calipers. The thickness of these folds is then used to calculate the body fat percentage.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA): Devices such as scales or handheld units send a very low electric current through the body. As fat and muscle conduct electricity differently, the resistance to this current is used to approximate the percentage of body fat present. Learn more about how we use BIA at our Harrisburg office and our Blakely office to gain an accurate measure of body fat.
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA): This method uses X-rays of two different energies to estimate the bone mineral density, lean body mass, and fat mass. It’s one of the most accurate, but it’s more expensive and less accessible as it requires specialized equipment and trained professionals.
Hydrostatic Weighing: Sometimes referred to as underwater weighing, this involves submerging a person in water and measuring their body density, which is then used to estimate body fat.
Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod): Similar to hydrostatic weighing but uses air instead of water. The person sits in a sealed chamber, and changes in pressure are used to determine body density and body fat percentage.
|20 – 29
|30 – 39
|40 – 49
|50 – 59
|16 – 24%
|17 – 25%
|19 – 28%
|22 – 31%
|22 – 33%
|7 – 17%
|12 – 21%
|14 – 23%
|16 – 24%
|17 – 25%
|10 – 12%
|2 – 4%
|14 – 20%
|6 – 13%
|21 – 24%
|14 – 17%
|25 – 31%
|18 – 25%
Healthy blood pressure is a crucial factor in overall health. High blood pressure can strain the heart and arteries, potentially leading to heart disease and stroke. It is often influenced by weight, with overweight and obesity increasing the risk of hypertension.
When assessing blood pressure, two numbers are recorded: systolic and diastolic. These measurements represent different phases of the heartbeat and are essential to evaluating cardiovascular health.
The systolic number, the higher of the two and the first one listed, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, or beats. It indicates the force your heart exerts on the artery walls as it pumps blood out to the body.
The diastolic number, the lower one and second listed, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is at rest between beats. It indicates the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.
Both numbers are crucial to understanding blood pressure. Blood pressure is typically considered normal when the systolic pressure is below 120 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure is below 80 mm Hg. Elevated blood pressure or hypertension is diagnosed when these numbers are consistently high, indicating that the heart is working harder than it should to pump blood, which can lead to various health complications.
|Blood Pressure Category
|Systolic mm Hg (top number)
|and/or Diastolic mm Hg (bottom number)
|119 or lower
|79 or lower
|120 – 129
|79 or lower
|High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1
|130 – 139
|80 – 89
|High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate, the number of heartbeats per minute when the body is at rest, can reflect cardiovascular health and fitness level. An optimal range for adults is typically between 60-100 beats per minute.
To measure your resting heart rate, you need to be calm and relaxed. Choose a time when you’re comfortable and have not recently been exercising or feeling stressed or anxious. For the most accurate results, we recommend doing it after you wake up, before get out of bed. Using the first two fingers of your hand (not the thumb, as it has its own pulse), locate your pulse on the inside of your wrist or on your neck just below the jawline. Once you’ve found a steady pulse, count the number of beats for 60 seconds using a timer or watch. The number you get is your resting heart rate in beats per minute.
Heart Rate Recovery
Heart Rate Recovery (HHR), the speed at which your heart rate returns to normal after exercise, is another key metric for cardiac health. The difference between your peak heart rate and your heart rate after a brief rest period is your HRR. HRR consists of two phases: a fast phase and a slow phase.
To measure HRR, you’ll first need to determine your peak heart rate during intense exercise, either using a heart rate monitor or by manually taking your pulse immediately after you stop exercising.
After reaching your peak exercise heart rate, start your recovery period. The fast phase of HRR occurs during the first minute of recovery, and it’s generally a more rapid decrease. To measure this, rest for one minute, then measure your heart rate again. Subtract this number from your peak heart rate to determine the fast phase of your HRR.
The slow phase of HRR begins after the first minute and can last for several minutes to hours, as your heart rate gradually returns to its resting level. To measure the slow phase, take another heart rate measurement five minutes after ending exercise and subtract this from your heart rate at the end of the first minute.
For example, if your peak exercise heart rate is 180 bpm, it drops to 120 bpm after the first minute (indicating a fast phase recovery of 60 bpm), and then it further drops to 100 bpm after five minutes (indicating a slow phase recovery of 20 bpm).
A faster HRR – larger decreases in heart rate during both the fast and slow phases – generally signifies a healthier and more conditioned heart. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a good HRR after one minute of rest is 18 beats per minute or higher. However, many factors can influence HRR, so it’s crucial to use this measure as part of a broader health assessment.
Cholesterol levels provide another important insight into cardiovascular health. Cholesterol is a type of lipid, or fat, that’s essential for many body functions, including the production of hormones and vitamin D. However, high levels of certain types of cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins, which come in two main types: Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL, often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, can build up on the walls of the arteries, narrowing them and potentially leading to heart disease or stroke. Conversely, HDL, known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, reducing the risk of these conditions.
Overweight and obesity can contribute to elevated LDL and lower HDL levels, as excess weight often corresponds with higher levels of triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood) and decreased HDL cholesterol. This altered lipid profile can accelerate atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in arterial walls, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Moreover, overweight individuals often have larger LDL particles, which may be more prone to oxidation, a key step in the development of cardiovascular disease. By maintaining a healthy weight, individuals can help ensure a healthier balance of cholesterol levels, thus reducing their risk of heart disease. Regular cholesterol checks are essential for monitoring cardiovascular health, particularly for individuals who are overweight or obese.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. It’s a protective mechanism that aids in healing by bringing white blood cells and nutrients to the affected area. However, when inflammation becomes chronic or systemic, it can contribute to various health problems.
Chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. It’s thought to occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells or when an inflammatory response is triggered unnecessarily. Chronic inflammation can damage tissues over time, potentially leading to disease.
People who are overweight or obese often have higher levels of systemic inflammation. Excess fat tissue, particularly around the abdomen, produces inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines. These cytokines can promote inflammation throughout the body, contributing to the development of chronic diseases. For example, chronic inflammation can cause insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Inflammation can be measured in a few ways, but one common method is through a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a protein produced by the liver in response to inflammation. A high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) test can detect lower levels of CRP, making it a useful tool for identifying low-level inflammation that may not cause noticeable symptoms but could still pose a risk to health.
It’s important to take a holistic approach to health and weight. While body composition measures like Body Fat Percentage can provide a useful overview, they are not definitive indicators of health. They should be used in conjunction with other metrics, including blood pressure, resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, cholesterol levels, and inflammation markers.
Lastly, remember that maintaining a healthy weight is a journey, not a destination. It’s more important to focus on overall health rather than specific numbers. It’s about a balanced and sustainable relationship with food and physical activity and a weight range that supports your wellbeing and reduces health risks.