Real Measure of Fitness: My BMI Says I’m Unhealthy, Should I be Worried?

Ben Emanuel II

A person who doesn't work out can be considered "normal", while someone who lifts regularly can be classified as obese. A marathon runner can be considered underweight despite having outstanding lung capacity. Does a high BMI mean that you are unhealthy?

For years, BMI has been used by experts to gauge a person’s risk for different conditions. Experts believed that the higher the BMI, the higher the risk for different conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

BMI is measured by using the formula: . Based on your results, you are then classified whether you are underweight (below 18.5), normal (18.5-24.9), overweight (25.0-29.9), obese (30.0 and above)

But these days, many are confused. A person who doesn't work out can be considered "normal", while someone who lifts regularly can be classified as obese. Or perhaps, a marathon runner can be considered underweight despite having outstanding lung capacity. Does a high BMI mean that you are unhealthy?

Many Factors Missing

BMI can be considered a confusing measuring stick of someone's health status and overall fitness because it overlooks other factors that can affect a high BMI. Someone may be heavy due to his or her muscle mass. Age is also a factor since we get naturally heavier as we get older.

Body composition plays a great role in your weight and ultimately your BMI. Between muscles and fat, the former is heavier. However, BMI looks into muscles and fats as the same thing.

Next, if you are tall, there is a chance that BMI will exaggerate your BMI given the formula that squares the height. It makes tall people think that they are fat while short people think that they are thinner than they really are.

The blanket approach of BMI is also flawed claiming that a higher BMI will result in conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. Ethnicity is a factor that should always be considered. Asians tend to have a greater risk of getting type 2 diabetes at a lower BMI. On the other hand, it is common for African Americans to have a higher BMI but enjoy no health risks associated with obesity.

How to Properly Measure Fitness?

Now that we’ve established that BMI is flawed, what should you be looking into if you want to have a good idea about your overall health and fitness?

1. Measuring Visceral Fats

Fat concentration is an important measure of your health status and fitness. Visceral fats surrounding the organs in the body can have an impact on whether or not you are going to encounter health problems. Some experts are starting to believe that having a waistline of 40 inches for males and 35 inches for females puts you at a higher risk of developing different health conditions.

2. Check the lab results

If you want to accurately have an idea regarding your overall fitness and health, be sure to visit your doctor and complete different diagnostic tests. For instance, doctors typically check a patient's triglycerides to determine the fats found in your blood.

This gives you a bigger picture of your health since getting higher than the normal result would be indicative that you are eating more than what your body can burn.

Aside from your triglycerides, you also want to check your fasting blood sugar to determine whether or not you are diabetic.

3. Resting Heart Rate

The normal heart rate range for adults is 60-100 beats per minute. Athletes tend to have a lower heart rate because their heart functions more efficiently. Some marathon runners would even have a resting heart rate of 40 to 50.

4. Core Strength and Endurance

Core strength is an important measure of your fitness. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the core equals six-pack abs. In reality, the core goes beyond the abs. The core pertains to the muscles in the back, glutes, and abdominals. And the basic function of your core muscles is to support the spine and to transfer force between the lower body and the upper body.

A good way to assess core muscle strength is by holding the plank position. Get in plank position and on your elbow. Once in this position, be sure to keep a perfect form and not let your hips go up. If you can't hold the position for at least 90 seconds, then it's time to improve on your core by integrating exercises that demand your core to contract.

5. Assess your upper body strength

Another good measure of your fitness is by doing the pushup and pullup tests. Muscle groups in the upper body can be classified either as a pulling or a pushing muscle. To test your pushing muscles, a pushup test can be done by hitting as many pushups until failure. You’d want to complete at least 25 push for men and 20 for women.

As for doing the pull-up test (also known as the chin-up test), the goal is to get your chin above the bar. Since many factors are at play when it comes to doing pull-ups such as the grip you use and your current weight, this test is difficult to assess. But as a general rule of thumb, you want to be able to do a pullup at least 5 times for men and at least 2 for women.

6. The Cooper Test

Kenneth Cooper in the 1960s developed what is known as the Cooper Test. It is mainly a running exercise wherein participants are also allowed to walk. You will have to complete the most distance in a span of 12 minutes.

Males between 20 to 29 years old should at least cover 2200 meters in 12 minutes to be considered to have an average VO2 max under this test. As for females, you need to at least meet 1800 meters in a span of 12 minutes.

Final Thoughts

If you want to assess your health and fitness, it is best to not just stick to your BMI. You’d rather want to rely on other tests considering the flaws that we’ve mentioned when in the process of computing for BMI. And that’s why you want to not get frustrated if you find yourself beyond BMI’s normal range.

If you live an active life plus you eat a healthy diet, you’d most likely be healthier than someone isn’t but has a “normal” BMI.