To weigh or not to weigh, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of knowing one’s outrageous weight, or to take arms against a sea of bulges by simply ignoring the scale and trying to eat less and exercise more. For some of us, the scale is a tool. For others, it’s the enemy.
Some health and fitness professionals have made a compelling case for ignoring the scale, saying that measuring one’s percentage of body fat is the most accurate way to track one’s fitness level.
It indicates a healthy body composition, regardless of height and weight. I agree that you should know your body fat as a baseline for fitness and fatness.
Here are some body fat guidelines according to the American Council on Exercise:
Body Fat Percentage for Women:
- Athlete: 14-20 percent
- Fit: 21-24 percent
- Average: 25-31 percent
- Obese: > 32 percent
Body Fat Percentage for Men:
- Athlete: 6-13 percent
- Fit: 14-17 percent
- Average: 18-24 percent
- Obese: > 25 percent
So why bother weighing yourself at all? When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to use any indication you can get that your efforts are paying off. It can take a couple of weeks before you see any difference in body fat. Your weight will change more quickly. Besides, there are relatively inexpensive scales that give you both your actual weight and your percentage of body fat.
My personal prejudice is to weigh yourself at least once or twice a week. I do, and I find that facing my weight on a regular basis helps me stay motivated. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve dreaded getting on that scale. But I do it anyway because no matter what it says, I feel relief. I find it liberating. Why? Because now I know where I am and what I need to do next. It helps me maintain a healthy weight. And I have one of those scales that also measures fitness to fatness, so I am able to keep track of that at the same time. I check my body fat every week or two.
In my practice I have helped hundreds of people lose weight. And many of them initially fight me about getting on the scale; and I understand this because I know that terror. Part of the process of losing weight is to prepare oneself to do it. If you are not psychologically ready to lose, stepping on the scale can be a real turnoff and actually deter you from losing weight. But once you’re ready, facing that number can jump-start your weight-loss program and keep you going.
I give my clients a baseline of their body fat percentage and get them to use the scale. Then we set up a diet and exercise plan. You can lose weight by diet alone. But dieting can reduce muscle mass along with fat. This becomes ever more important as we age. We can lose as much as 6 pounds of muscle tissue per decade as we age. And metabolism can slow down as much as 3 percent per decade. You can see that if left unchecked, you’re on a slow boat to obesity. Adding an exercise program may be all you need to turn this process around. Cardio exercise burns calories, and strength training raises your metabolism and builds lean muscle mass while you are losing. Losing about 1 percent body fat a month and one to two pounds a week is considered safe and realistic. Here’s the winning combination. Reduce calorie intake with diet, do cardio most days to burn calories, and strength train at least a couple of days a week to build muscle mass and increase metabolism.
So, I’ve made my case for using the scale as a tool, and I hope you’ll try it when you are ready. Regardless, to be or not to be at a healthy weight should not be in question.
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I became interested in exercise and memory several years ago when my older students began to tell me that their memories seemed to improve after they took my class.
I was teaching mostly dance-exercise in those days. I started with simple steps and built up to a pretty complex routine.
There has to be a connection I thought, between the physical movement, making your brain learn this routine, and improved memory.
I’m no scientist but I was curious. So I started to break it down.
What I was having people do is learn short phrases of movement and then link them together. The cardio dance routine required them to move forward and back, side to side, remember specific steps; and stay in rhythm.
This was a real challenge for many of my students who had never done anything like this before. As they got more proficient, the class became a social gathering; because of this shared experience.
My students felt energized afterwards, not exhausted. They told me that besides getting a good body workout they were getting a memory workout as well. They said they could actually remember things better.
I wondered if there was science to support our anecdotal experience.
I contacted a couple of local Alzheimer’s specialists (there was no internet back then) and they told me – you’re probably right but there weren’t any specific studies on this more than 20 years ago.
Even now the research is not conclusive. But, technology in the last 15 years has allowed science to discover a lot more about the brain.
Vascular memory loss has been linked to heart disease and cardio fitness is a major factor in preventing and managing that issue. Aerobic exercise increases the amount of oxygen supplied to the brain improving mental function. Cardio fitness has been shown to reduce loss of brain cells in older adults.
A study of 1,449 older adults shows those who in middle age exercised vigorously enough to perspire and breathe hard for 20 to 30 minutes at least twice a week reduced their risk of later developing Alzheimer’s disease by about 60 percent.*
But cardio is just part of the equation.
Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that certain types of dance, particularly with routines to learn and remember, may help prevent age-onset memory loss and diseases like Alzheimer’s. “…. cognitive activity may stave off dementia by increasing a person’s “cognitive reserve.” **
And a study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, says activities that combined mental and social as well as physical stimulation offered the greatest protection against dementia***
Activity is the active word. Be physically active, mentally active and socially active, preferably all at once. Taking a Cardio Dance class or getting together with friends to do a Cardio Dance DVD is a good place to start. And to this day, when I start my cardio dance class I say,
“It’s time to workout our hearts and minds!”
*Rovio, Suvi; Kareholt, Ingemar; Helkala, Eeva-Liisa; Viitanen, Matti; Winblad, Bengt; Tuomilehto, Jaakko; Soininen, Hilkka; Nissinen, Aulikki; and Kivipelto, Miia. “Leisure-time physical activity at midlife and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” The Lancet Neurology; published online Oct. 4, 2005.
** Dr Joe Verghese, lead author of study conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, N Engl J Med, 2003; 348:2508-2516.
***Karp, Anita; Paillard-Borg, Stephanie; Wang, Hui-Xin; Silverstein, Merrill; Winblad, Bengt; and Fratiglioni, Laura. “Mental, Physical and Social Components in Common Leisure Activities in Old Age in Relation to Dementia: Findings from the Kungsholmen Project.” Presented at the Alzheimer’s Association 9th International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, Philadelphia, Penn., July 17 – 22, 2004. Abstract published in Neurobiology of Aging, July 2004, Vol. 25, S2: p. S313.