We often take it for granted, but good health is one of the most precious gifts of life. A healthy weight—maintained throughout life—helps you achieve good health in many ways: look your best, feel your best, and reduce your risk for many serious and ongoing diseases. What is a healthy weight? It’s the weight that’s best for you—not necessarily the lowest weight you think you can be. A healthy weight actually is a range that’s statistically related to good health. Being above or below that range increases the risk of health problems, or decreases the likelihood of good health.
Body Basics: What’s Your Healthy Weight?
The answer isn’t as simple as stepping onto a bathroom scale, then comparing your weight to a chart. Your own healthy weight is one that’s right for you. It may be quite different from someone else’s weight, even if you are the same height, gender, and age. What makes the difference? Your genetic makeup plays a role because it determines your height and the size and shape of your body frame. A genetic link to body fat also may exist. Of course, genetics isn’t the only reason why weight differs from person to person. Your metabolic rate, the rate at which your body burns energy, makes a difference. So does your body composition. Muscle burns more calories than body fat does. Your level of physical activity and what you eat both play an important role, too.
Body Mass Index: Fit or Fat?
Body mass index (BMI) is a number based on body weight in relation to your height that indicates how much your weight affects your risks for weight-related health problems. It doesn’t directly measure body fat. For adults, there’s no difference in BMI weight ranges for age; health risks appear to be the same, regardless of age. The same chart applies to men and women.
Body Weight, Body Fat?
Your body composition, not necessarily where you fit on any chart, is an important part of evaluating your weight. In fact, the location and amount of body fat may predict your weight-related health risk more than bodyweight alone. For example, a person’s BMI may fit right within the healthy range, but he or she still may carry too much body fat. Conversely, a muscular person may seem to be at increased risk according to charts, but may not be overeating. Why? Muscle weighs more than fat.
How can you determine how much of your weight is body fat (often referred to as percent body fat)? Short of expensive tests such as underwater weighing, getting an exact measure isn’t easy, and it’s especially hard to figure it out on your own
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Energy Basics: Calorie Math
You can’t touch them or see them. Food supplies them, but they’re not nutrients. Your body burns them to keep you alive—and moving. What are they? They’re calories! To understand how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, start with calorie basics.
A Measure of Energy
Calories actually are units of energy. Back in science class, you probably learned the technical definition: one calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. In the world of nutrition and health, the term “calorie” refers to the amount of energy in food and the amount of energy the body uses.
Read food labels or check a calorie counter. You’ll see that most foods supply calories, or energy—some more than others. What accounts for the differences? Three nutrient groups—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—and alcohol supply energy, or calories, in food and beverages. Gram for gram, fat, and alcohol supply more than either carbohydrate or protein.
Your body’s need for energy, or fuel, never stops. Every minute of every day, your body needs a constant supply of energy to stay alive and to function well. How much? Energy needs vary from person to person. Even your own energy needs to change at different ages and stages of life. Your age, basal metabolic rate, body size and composition, physical health, and activity level contribute to how much energy you need.