Let’s face it, the scale doesn’t tell us everything. We step on the scale and see a number, which we may use as a basis for a weight-loss goal, but it doesn’t tell us much about our overall health. And even BMI (Body Mass Index) has come under fire recently, because that number doesn’t account for significant muscle mass, much less how healthy we are (or aren’t).
There are eight body numbers that can help gauge how healthy we actually are. In addition to weight and BMI, they include body composition, hormone levels, cholesterol, bone density, and blood pressure. These numbers function as a starting point and help us visualize our goals and desired results.
The eighth number is the waist-to-hip ratio. It is the most accurate assessment of healthy weight. As we age, our waist-to-hip ratio predicts how we’ll age and what health issues we may encounter if we don’t make positive changes.
Breaking Down the Waist-to-Hip Ratio
What matters most about fat is “location, location, location.” Our weight is largely determined by the way we are balancing the calories consumed with the energy used to maintain health and support activity. For example, “If you eat too much and exercise too little, you’re likely to carry excess weight – including belly fat.”
People who tend to accumulate excess weight in their hip area are said to be “pear-shaped”. Those who accumulate excess fat in the midsection are considered “apple shaped.” As we age, muscle mass tends to diminish, while fat increases. Muscle mass requires more energy for maintenance, burning more calories, while fat-filled cells do not. When muscle decreases, the body needs fewer calories and will store excess food calories as fat generally in the hips or the midsection.
In addition, women may observe an increase in belly fat because of low estrogen levels, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, “appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body.” If low estrogen levels are contributing to belly fat accumulation, you’ll need to adopt strategies to combat this side-effect of menopause.
Measuring the waist-to-hip ratio gives an accurate assessment and is a reasonable way to judge your progress. Waist-to-hip ratio is better than BMI because it won’t be skewed for more muscular body types. In an episode of The Doctors, I discuss how body shape affects our health. Specifically, whether apple orPear-shaped women are healthier. The video also includes a demonstration of how to determine your waist to hip ratio.
Finding your waist-to-hip ratio is simple. First, use a tape measure around your waist – the area just above your hipbones, usually right above your belly button – and record this measurement. Then, take your hip measurement around the thickest part of your rear end. Once you have both numbers, divide your waist number by the hip measurement.
It’s good to maintain your waist-to-hip ratio below 0.8, indicating a pear shape. A ratio above that number means you’re apple shaped, and is cause for concern.
Why Pear-Shaped Women are Healthier
It matters where we accumulate fat. If we’re going to accumulate fat, it is least detrimental around our hips and rear end. When your body accumulates fat away from your midsection, your organs are better protected.
Belly fat smothers the organs in the midsection, interfering with optimal function. The essential organs – lungs, heart, kidney, liver, stomach, intestines – function better without being burdened by fat. It’s also important to note that this fat doesn’t just “hang out.”
Abdominal fat is metabolically active – it’s producing proteins and chemicals. So the fat that suffocates our organs is also active in a bad way. The National Institute of Health supports this. “Fat accumulation intra-abdominally is associated with higher risk for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Conversely, fat accumulation in the subcutaneous regions of the hips, thighs, and lower trunk is considered less harmful or even protective against cardiometabolic complications.”
Bio Med’s studies support this theory as well. The “female fat distribution” consists of more adipose tissue in the hips and the thighs. This pattern can help protect women from metabolic diseases, like type 2 diabetes. Other issues and diseases that are more likely to afflict apple shaped women are: hypertension, dyslipidemia, shortness of breath, poor quality of life, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.
About 40% of women between the ages of 30-79 store fat in their abdominal area – making them apple shaped. Pear-shaped women are healthier because their fat isn’t directly harming their internal organs, but obesity is never desirable. For example, there is evidence that suggests weight gain can lead to earlier ovarian failure and menopause. This correlation between obesity and women’s reproductive health is important for planning your future. The evidence of earlier menopause means you will lose estrogen sooner – and maybe when you’re not exactly ready for it.
Battling Belly Fat
The National Institute of health reports that “Overweight and obesity are now the fifth leading risk for global deaths with prevalence rates that are rising in most of the modern Western societies, as well as in the developing world.” It’s affecting 1.5 billion adults!
There are ways to battle belly fat:
- Eat a Healthy Diet
- Replace Sugary Beverages
- Keep Portion Sizes in Check
- Include Physical Activity in Your Daily Routine
Staying active is key to battling belly fat. Shedding pounds will not be possible without physical activity. Make time for fitness – whether it’s monitoring your steps, going for a walk after work, making it to the gym – pick something you enjoy and stick to it. As we age, strength training is critically important to maintain and build muscle to counter calorie intake. You will look better and be stronger. And perhaps most importantly, you will feel better.