The basic premise of ‘ideal health’ is more or less the same for most of us:
We want to look good, we want to feel good, and we want to have a long, functional, and fulfilling life.
The thing is, with so many different body types out there, it can be tricky to figure out what exactly ‘ideal health’ really looks like. For this reason, scientists, researchers, and doctors have come up with several objective tests and measures that are intended to give you an idea of your overall health status. These data points, often referred to as biomarkers, include things like blood pressure, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood cholesterol (especially the ratio between triglycerides and HDL, with a greater ratio equaling greater risk of heart disease), fasting glucose levels, and more.
Having these data points are useful and can give you a great picture of your overall health. However, you need a visit to the doctor’s office or nearest lab to get this information done (interestingly, there are some companies out there that allow you to test your own blood at home, but these can be a bit on the expensive side).
This is where things like the Body Mass Index (BMI) and the lesser known Waist-Hip Ratio (WHR) come in handy. You can easily calculate these measurements yourself at home or at the gym. But what are these measurements, exactly? What do they tell us about our health? Are they accurate?
The Body Mass Index (BMI) vs. the Waist-Hip Ratio (WHR)
Here’s the thing: your body weight alone may not give you a great picture of your overall health or relative success with a weight loss program. After all, if you’re gaining muscle while also losing body fat, the scale may not move (and in some cases, the numbers may even increase).
Some clever folks have figured out along the way that by comparing your weight to your height, you get a better estimate of if (and how much) you are overweight. This is the BMI. The calculation goes something like this:
- Divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters.
- Divide this number by your height in meters.
The BMI is the standard measurement used by most doctors and scientists to assess whether a person is overweight or obese. However, it’s not always totally accurate, especially for super muscular people or older individuals.
The WHR works by dividing your waist circumference (the narrowest part of your waist, just above your bellybutton) by your hip circumference (the widest part of your buttocks). The higher the ratio (above 0.86 for women and above 1.0 for men), the more overweight or obese you are.
Compared to the BMI, the WHR may be more accurate for predicting future heart and kidney problems. This is likely because body fat stored around the abdomen tends to be more strongly linked to chronic health diseases.
So, if you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and so on, use the WHR. In fact, feel free to use both. Just keep in mind that each measurement is just one snapshot in your overall health. The more data you have, the more complete picture you’ll get of your well-being.
3 Ways to Improve Your BMI, WHR & Overall Health
Weight loss is a journey. For some of us, it comes easy–but for the rest of us, it can involve quite a bit of trial and error.
Of course, setting out on a weight loss journey is about way more than just improving your self-image and self-confidence. Losing excess body fat tends to improve the key bio markers of health across the board, which, by default, can improve your overall health, vitality and longevity.
So, if you’re making the choice to lose weight and work toward your ideal health, then keep the following 3 key factors in mind. Think of them as the 3 pillars of health: without one of them, your health (let alone your success with fat loss) will definitely be sub-optimal:
1. Commit to a sound and balanced nutrition program.
There’s no one-size-fits-all diet plan out there. Sure, there are some basic premises that most people would benefit from (eat lean animal protein and veggies, plenty of healthy fats, some fruit and starch, and little to no sugar), but every person’s physiology is a bit different, and their food choices should reflect that.
Remember that healthy eating isn’t really as simple as “eat less, exercise more.” Yes, portion control is necessary, and things like meal replacement shakes and even intermittent fasting may be useful to you. But quality is just as critical as quantity when it comes to food, so make sure you’re getting all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other micro- and macro-nutrients that you need.
2. Find the best workout program to meet your individual goals.
Your best workout program should be challenging, safe, and well-rounded. It should touch on all major physical skills, including strength, stamina, flexibilty, balance, agility, and power.
Oh, and it should also be enjoyable. You’re not going to stick with regular physical activity if you treat your workouts like punishment! Find an exercise or activity you love and stick with it.
3. Get plenty of quality sleep and recovery.
You can’t outrun a bad diet, and you can’t out-eat or out-run a bad night’s sleep! Strength gains happen during recovery, not during your training session itself. So schedule rest days, sleep in a pitch dark room, enjoy active recovery days (with long walks, easy swims, or hikes), drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. Your body, your BMI, and your WHR will thank you!