Staying Healthy

Dear Dr. B: How do I know I am healthy? And how can I stay healthy?

This is a good question for the month of December. This is a month when most people are not worried about their health. It’s a month to shop, eat, drink and be merry. After all Christmas and New Year come only once a year.

But many people use December as a time to reflect on the year gone by and plan for the year to come by. It may be about health or about other matters. It is a good month to remind oneself to get a yearly physical examination and blood tests. And pay a visit to your doctor and ask, “Doc, am I healthy?”

“Yes,” he will say, “you are healthy if you are maintaining a healthy weight, eating right, staying physically active, not smoking, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and if you are a diabetic then you should be controlling your blood sugar level.”

This is a bit simplistic answer but you get the point. Many factors determine good health. Maintaining good weight is important. We know that being overweight increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

But how does one know if a person is of normal weight?

Recently the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), published the 2003 Canadian Guidelines for Body Weight Classification in Adults which updates the weight classification system that had been in use since 1988.

The authors of the article say that although the guidelines are helpful, the absence of concrete answers to relevant clinical scenarios weakens their practical application, and they should be applied with caution. After all they are only guidelines. These guidelines should be used in conjunction with clinical findings.

The body weight classification depends on the body mass index (BMI) – kg/m2 . There are many sites on the internet were you can enter your height and weight and your BMI will be calculated for you.

You are considered underweight if your BMI is lower than 18.5 kg/m2 . This could be a marker of malnutrition or may identify people with eating disorders.

If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2 then this is considered normal and good weight for most people.

Overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 and 30 kg/m2. This is associated with increased health risks and may lead to health problems in some people. The authors say that many factors beyond BMI influence health risk, such as body fat distribution, physical activity, diet and genetic background.

Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat. The BMI of over 30 is considered to be obese. These individuals have increased risk of health problems.

Waist circumference is also important. Healthy waist circumference in a male should be less than 102 cm and for females less than 88 cm.

World Health Organization says that in the most industrialized countries at least one-third of all disease burden is caused by tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. So, if we want to stay healthy then we need to tackle these problems.

Healthy eating and maintaining a healthy body weight are the first steps in that direction!

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