Portland received two low grades for two too high numbers from Dr. Oz. The first was for hypertension or high blood pressure. The second was for obesity. He reported that 40% of the people who showed up for health screenings at OHSU on July 16th had high blood pressure and 40% were obese while 28% were overweight. How can such a livable, walkable, bikeable city, replete with trails, walkways and bike paths be so unfit? It all has to do with numbers, numbers that translate into risk factors.
I talked about high blood pressure in my June 5th article entitled System Restore. Today, I’d like to focus on another number—BMI or Body Mass Index—which is a mathematical formula that relates height to weight. This all sounds dry and statistical so I’d like to give you some real life, personal examples of how these numbers are related, how changing one number (or risk factor) can cause another to change and how all of this relates to you and your health.
Hypertension and obesity are two risk factors that can lead to heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, either alone or in conjunction with other factors. Diabetes alone is a risk factor. Being inactive can lead to obesity and high blood pressure. Lack of exercise can also lead to low good cholesterol (HDL) and high bad cholesterol (LDL). One can lead to another in a dangerous chain of risks. When you break in and begin to reverse one link in that chain, others can change as well. Breaking the risk factor of inactivity by beginning to walk more can lead to losing weight, reversing obesity, increasing HDL cholesterol, and decreasing blood pressure—a change in four risk factors by initially changing only one by beginning to walk more.
Let’s get back to BMI. Dr. Oz reported that 40% of the people screened in Portland were obese. What does that mean? It means that their BMI was over 30 based on their height and weight. That helps! Let me give you an example. A woman who is five feet five inches tall and weighs 180 pounds has a BMI or Body Mass Index of 30 and is considered obese. A woman the same height who weighs 170 pounds has a BMI of 28 and is considered overweight according to the BMI charts. BMI provides guidelines for screening and is only one tool used in determining health risk.
A normal or healthy weight BMI ranges from 19 – 24.9. Overweight is defined as a range from 25 – 29.9. There are three stages of obesity beginning at 30 and going as high as 40 and above. There is also a range within each category. For example, I am five feet five inches and weigh 115 pounds. My BMI is 19, the low side of the normal or healthy range. According to the BMI chart (Google “Adult Body Mass Index Chart” to see the numbers), I can weigh between 115 and 145 (BMI 24.9) to be classified as a normal or healthy weight. I personally would not be comfortable at 145 unless 1.) I had a lot more muscle or 2.) was much taller!
It is important to know your numbers, to know your risk factors, to know yourself. You are in charge of you. Talk to your doctor or health care professional. Take advantage of free health screenings. Know your blood pressure, know your BMI, your cholesterol levels, both the good and the bad, your triglycerides, your waist circumference and your blood sugars.
Take the first step, whether it is losing that first pound or walking that first mile. Your health numbers will improve and so will Portland’s. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or even at the front of the pack. Just show up at the start and take that first step—for you. You’re never too old or too young and it’s never too late to invest in your future health and that of your community and country. Now go out and improve your grades!
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM
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