Note: The following is one of a series of articles from the Canyon Ranch Institute dedicated to showing people how to live healthier and encouraging folks to take small steps to adjust their lifestyle.
There is a rather large and somewhat disturbing truth in Savannah and southeast Georgia that is hard to talk about, but we all must start the conversation.
In too many ways, the area is far less healthy than our nation overall. For example, a greater percentage of adults are overweight and never move their bodies to exercise here than in other parts of the United States.
Chatham County actually is less healthy than the national average in just about every way in which people measure health. This is true for physical, mental, emotional and financial health and overall well-being.
The tourists may come here and have a great time, but our lifestyles are killing us at the same time.
This is easy to fix. It just takes a number of small steps toward a more balanced lifestyle — nothing radical, nothing expensive and nothing you can’t do in your own home and life.
People who maintain an unhealthy weight are so common that many now think it is normal. While it may be too common, it is not healthy to be overweight and should not be seen as normal, average or OK.
Big people can be healthy just as small people can be unhealthy — but people who carry too much of the wrong kind of weight on their bodies in the wrong places always will be less healthy than they could be. Those people are likely to become very sick with a preventable disease such as diabetes or heart disease, have long-term disabilities and die earlier.
The choice is always yours to make, but let’s start today to be aware of that choice so that we know what we are doing to our bodies, minds, spirits and emotional well-being. We need to understand our reasons for making the choices we make and the true costs of our behavior. That isn’t asking too much of anyone; it is actually common sense.
Would you trade your favorite dessert for another day of life? Would you do 60 minutes of exercise to be able to eat your favorite dessert and also live longer? Think about it.
Talk with your health professional about body mass index
Body mass index, or BMI, is one of the ways health professionals measure how healthy a person’s weight is — or is not.
Many people assume that if they have a high, or unhealthy, BMI, their health care professional would tell them, but that's not always true. Sometimes, health care professionals may not want to talk about weight any more than you do. So, if you're interested in your BMI percentile, it's best to ask directly. Some people don’t visit a health care professional as often as they should, so they simply may not be aware that their weight is not healthy.
Many of us know of a loving grandmother or doting father who wants their children to be big and healthy. The problem is, being too big isn’t healthy at all. We often associate food with love, so feeding our families may seem like a loving, healthy thing to do — but too much of even a good thing can be bad for us in the long run.
The purpose of talking about a person’s BMI is not to embarrass anyone but to let that person know about a health problem with serious consequences so he or she can talk with a health care professional about the next steps he or she should take to live a healthier life.
No one ever should make fun of anyone because they have too much or too little weight or because they're a different size. We are all different, and we are all due respect.
There even are some cases in which BMI might be misleading. Athletic individuals, in particular, may fall into the overweight category when they actually are just very muscular.
Also, remember that as people begin to exercise, they will add muscle, so their weight and BMI may well increase — especially at first — because lean muscle is heavier than fat. But muscle is the engine for burning calories.
If you’ve heard of metabolism, you know that it’s good to have a high metabolism. The way to get a high metabolism, which is one that burns a lot of calories, is to have lean muscle mass. That’s just one of the reasons to exercise. Other reasons include managing stress and maintaining or building functionality, such as being able to bend down and get back up again without falling.
Your BMI is an important indicator of your health, but it is only one piece of the overall picture. If your BMI score indicates that you are not within the healthy range, you need to undergo a complete weight and lifestyle evaluation with a health care professional.
The WebMD online calculator for BMI, found at www.webmd.com/diet/calc-bmi-plus, is easy to use. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.99 is considered the healthiest.
This calculator also allows you to calculate the ratio of your waist size to your height, because where you carry your weight on your body is also important. Belly fat affects your health more than fat in your arms or hips, for example. Having too much fat on your belly is linked to a higher risk of cholesterol and diabetes, and it puts you at risk for other diseases.
When you know your BMI, you then can continue the conversation about how to make better choices about your health and wellness.
Palmer Steverson and Andrew Pleasant work with the Canyon Ranch Institute. If you're interested in joining the effort to create a healthier community, call CRI in Savannah at (912) 443-3264, tweet @CRIHealthyWorld, or email CRI@canyonranchinstitute.org.