How your body weight affects your health
Your body weight is determined by several factors, including genes, hormones, your age and some illnesses. But while there might not be much you can do to control these, your lifestyle has a significant impact on your weight, from what and how much you choose to eat to how active you are.
At the same time, your body weight can affect your overall health. Having too much or too little weight can put you at risk of developing some serious conditions. By achieving and maintaining an optimum weight you could control many diseases and illnesses while leading an overall healthy lifestyle.
Excessive body weight could increase the risk of developing certain health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary health disease, issues with fertility in women, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, liver disease, kidney problems and some cancers. Moreover, being overweight or obese could affect your self-esteem and lead to mental health problems, like depression.
In the UK, being overweight or obese is the second largest cause of cancer after smoking and more than 60% of adults in England suffer from this. If you are concerned about being overweight, you should talk to your doctor.
Being underweight could equally harm your health as being overweight. According to the NHS, when you weigh too little, your muscles are weaker, your bones are more fragile and therefore you feel tired more often. Also, your immune system is weakened and your ability to fight off infections is affected.
It’s normal to lose a noticeable amount of weight during periods of stress or life-changing events such as a divorce or bereavement, but too little weight could also be a sign of an underlying health issue associated with conditions such as osteoporosis, anaemia, hyperthyroidism or mental health problems such as an eating disorder.
If you are concerned about your weight, ask your GP for advice as soon as possible.
How to know if your weight is healthy?
There is more than one way to determine your healthy weight, but one of the most common methods used to categorise a person’s weight is the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a measure that you can work out based on some personal body measurements that will place you in one of these four categories:
- Healthy weight
According to the NHS, a BMI score that’s outside the “healthy weight” range may indicate you have a poor diet, unhealthy activity levels or high stress. If your BMI score is normal, this may be a good indicator that you need to maintain your existing weight.
How to work out your Body Mass Index (BMI)?
You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. The BMI basically calculates whether you are at a healthy weight for your height.
For example, a man that is 1.75m and weighs 70kg has a BMI of 22.9: 70 / 1.752 = 22.9.
Taking into your consideration you age, sex, ethnic group and activity level can give you more accurate results. You can use the NHS BMI calculator to check your Body Mass Index quickly and more precisely.
Limitations of BMI
The BMI scale is a useful indicator of where you are in terms of your weight, but you should not rely solely on it as it can be misleading in some cases. Some of the limitations of the BMI measurement include:
- It doesn’t take into consideration the composition of your weight. This means you can fall under the wrong category if your extra weight is made up of muscle or bone weight or if you are experiencing heavy muscle loss.
- What is considered a ‘healthy weight’ varies with age, sex and ethnicity.
- It can’t be used by pregnant women.
- It can’t be used by people with eating disorders.
To get a better idea of your healthy weight and how it is distributed on your body, you can also measure your waist circumference to check if you store fat around your belly. Research has shown that fat around your belly is potentially dangerous as it affects how your hormones function and it can increase the risk of several health conditions including type 2 diabetes. To measure your waist circumference, measure around half-way between your lower rib and top of your hips. According to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), you are at a higher risk of obesity-related health problems if your waist is higher than 94 cm as a man or 80 cm as a woman.
How to safely achieve your healthy weight
There are many programmes that are advertised to help you get to your desired weight quickly, but one of the best ways to achieve your goal is to make small sustainable changes to your lifestyle that will help you maintain your healthy weight in the long run. You can use your BMI and waist circumference results as a starting point for a conversation with your doctor.
Losing weight if you’re overweight
Weight loss takes time and commitment and it should happen gradually (the British Nutrition Foundation recommends losing weight at a rate of no more than 1-2 lbs or 0.5-1.0 kg per week). In this way, the weight is more likely to stay off. Even losing a small amount of weight could bring significant health benefits by reducing your risk of developing conditions related to being overweight. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that the path to sensible weight loss should include:
- A healthy balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The BNF recommends trying to avoid cutting out entire food groups from your diet, but decreasing the amount of fats and sugars you eat. Also, keeping an eye on the size of your meals and the number of calories you consume and moderating the amount of alcohol you drink are also important.
- Plenty of physical activity. Adults should try to be active daily, with the UK Chief Medical Officer Guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. You should also include muscle strengthening activities in your workouts and reduce your sitting periods.
Gaining weight if you are underweight
It’s essential to talk to your doctor if you think you are underweight as they might need to check for any underlying health problems, and you might need professional supervision whilst trying to gain weight.
Just like trying to lose weight, weight gain should happen gradually. If your diet is causing the low weight, opting for a healthy, balanced diet that provides you with the right number of calories for your age, height and your activity levels can help you achieve a healthy weight. According to the NHS, you shouldn’t rely on fatty foods and sweets to gain weight as they can increase body fat instead of lean body mass and may increase the level of cholesterol in your blood.
You might need specialised nutrition advice, therefore it is important to consult your GP or a registered dietitian before trying to put on weight.
Being underweight or overweight could be damaging to your health and wellbeing so you should always see your doctor if you have concerns about your weight. They will be able to advise you on what to do next. After getting your doctor’s opinion, you can think about ways of making your journey towards achieving a heathy weight an enjoyable experience.
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After you have achieved your healthy weight, it’s important to try to keep your healthy diet and physical activity routine, so you can keep fit as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.