I had a conversation the other day that stuck with me long after it was over.
After listening to a colleague detail his busy schedule, from four kids to a full time job and master’s program, I was curious. My instant and honest response was to ask how he had time to work out. After all, I wondered, how could he deal with the stress of his life and keep his energy levels up if he didn’t make time to move his body regularly?
His answer came after an awkward laugh. “I don’t, really.”
He then explained why he figured he was healthy enough, even though he doesn’t work out. A year ago, his doctor had instructed him to lose 5 pounds. He did a crash workout plan for a few months and lost 10 pounds. He was relatively slim and had lost the extra weight—so, he reasoned, that means he’s healthy.
Unfortunately, my colleague’s misconceptions are pretty normal. Many people think that the way you look (thin, heavy) reflects how healthy you are. As someone passionate about health and fitness, I knew his logic just doesn’t work. To be healthy, exercise must be part of a lifestyle built around wellness.
“Healthy” Is About More than Body Size
Aside from eating a healthy diet, working out is the most important thing a person can do to prevent disease and increase quality of life. As the executive editor of HealthIsWealth.net, I’m lucky to be exposed to information and research showing just what a healthy lifestyle includes—not to mention that I have the opportunity to learn directly from great minds like Dr. Myers and Dr. Ignarro.
I saw Dr. Myers a few days later after that conversation and brought up the discussion, knowing he’d have some sound reasoning behind why “thin” and “healthy” are not synonymous terms.
“The idea is that a person needs to get healthy, not just that they need to lose weight,” Dr. Myers explained. “Being healthy and losing weight aren’t exactly the same. A healthy lifestyle is about changing your habits for a lifetime. The motivation was good—but it didn’t lead to a lifetime change in this person’s approach to how he’s going to treat his health.”
Being overweight is a top risk factor for a number of conditions, including cancer, diabetes,heart disease, and many other conditions. But just because a person isn’t overweight, that doesn’t mean she’s healthy. Here are five reasons why.
#1 Being “skinny fat” can be dangerous. Some people have genes that allow them to eat whatever they want, rarely exercise, and yet remain thin. But research shows that some people who appear thin can be metabolically obese, making them just as at risk for disease as people who are visibly overweight. Similarly, some people who have extra pounds can be healthy.
#2 All calories are not the same. Many people believe that all calories are created equal. Yet processed foods often contain high levels of sugar and saturated and trans fats, which the body stores as visceral fat, a type of fat that increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other medical conditions.
#3 BMI is not the best measure of health. Doctors often assess body mass index (BMI), a weight-to-height ratio used to determine if someone is overweight. However, the test doesn’t distinguish between lean tissue and fat. For example, I weigh close to the same amount now as I did several years ago when I was less active. But I look and feel much fitter because my weight is now made up of more lean muscle mass. Body fat percentage or body composition (the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle) is a better measure of health.
#4 Thin people don’t tend to consider themselves unhealthy. Like my colleague, many people who appear thin and healthy, even if they are metabolically obese, may be less likely to get routine screenings or regular checkups.Because of this, they may have a number of risk factors they aren’t aware of. They may also be less motivated to exercise or eat well because a fast metabolism will keep them from gaining weight.
#5 Living vitally isn’t about weight. High energy levels, disease prevention, reduced stress, feeling rested and balanced, good relationships—these are the things vital lives are made of. By focusing just on weight as a measure of wellness, you may miss out on all that a healthy lifestyle has to offer.
I’d love to see our society’s perception of health shift. It’s not about how much you weigh but rather how you live—all of the pieces and parts of healthy living, working together synergistically. Perhaps if we can shift our thinking to see the benefits of health beyond appearance and other superficial methods of measuring wellness, we’ll begin to embrace the wonderful benefits of vital living.
What do you do to live vitally?
Stacy Ennis is the editor of HealthIsWealth.net and a writer specializing in health, nutrition, exercise and disease prevention. Follow her on Twitter: @stacyennis