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Does Health Really Matter?

by Nurse Jill

Part 1

Let’s talk about weight.

There used to be a pretty consistent stereotype in American culture about health. The super skinny, airbrushed models lurking in the grocery register aisles and in our mailboxes used to have a monopoly on the standard for health, regardless of how unrealistic it was. However, there is now a growing number of people who are embracing the extreme opposite in rebellion against the presented Hollywood perfection and arguing that health has swung to the other side of the weight spectrum.

Both camps actually have the wrong focus. There is a lot of emphasis on appearance instead of truly understanding the impact of weight on our health, both high weight and low weight.

The best way to know if your body weight is healthy is to keep track of your body mass index, also known as BMI. This is a number that accounts for your height and your weight. The target for healthy BMI, according to the CDC, is 18.5-24.9. If you aren’t sure where you sit: google BMI calculator and it will calculate your BMI for you. Your doctor can also tell you what your BMI is when you have an appointment with them.

Too low of a BMI (less than 18.5) is mostly associated with nutrition difficulties which can lead to anemia (low blood levels), low bone density, lower immune ability, and vitamin deficiencies. Not keeping your weight up can also impact heart health, energy levels, and ability to heal well after surgery. Low BMI can be caused by medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about your diet, lifestyle, and any other symptoms you may have that keep you from maintaining your weight in the normal range.

BMIs that are 25-29.9 are considered “overweight” and BMIs 30 and above are considered “obese.” Unfortunately, these levels of BMI are also associated with health challenges and increased risks of a myriad of conditions that can not only decrease life expectancy but also quality of life.

Loosing weight is difficult and a life-long struggle for some but let me encourage you to keep trying. The benefits of even a little success in this area can carry a noticeable improvement in health as well as prevent difficult complications if you do find yourself in need of surgery or hospital treatment. Remember, we’re aiming for small successes not sensational overnight transformation. Life seems easier to just accept our routine and not fail once again in weight loss but the risks of extra weight are worse than the effort to become active again.

Heart health. Many studies have shown that increased BMI is associated with an increased risk for heart failure, cardiovascular disease (and events), and heart failure. For every one point increase in BMI your risk of heart failure increases 5-7% depending on your gender. For every 5 point increase in your BMI you have over 25% more risk for atrial fibrillation: an abnormal heart rhythm that can cause a stroke.

Cancer. Obesity has been studied for its effect on cancer. Some studies found that obesity increased the risk of cancer by up to 17% as well as increased the risk of complications from treatments for cancer. Obesity is a risk factor for at least 8 of the most common cancers.

Joint health. It is estimated that when we are active our joints feel 3-6 times the actual weight that they are supporting. Just 10 extra pounds increases the load on our joints by 30-60 pounds. This extra burden can certainly add to the wear and tear that happens in the joints but there is also some evidence suggesting that obesity is a contributing factor aside from the obvious wear and tear. Total joint replacements have increased in frequency as America’s collective weight has also increased.

The CDC states that having a BMI of 25 or higher is also a risk factor for diabetes, gallbladder disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and even mental illness. Generally speaking as your BMI gets higher your risks get higher, too.

Life is busy and having healthy lifestyles is difficult and time consuming. But 20 minutes today investing in health far outweighs hours and days of recovery and pain when all the risk factors finally become reality instead of just a theory.

Walk 20 minutes, eat only half a dessert, take the stairs, park further away from the door, walk to your colleague’s office instead of emailing or calling, say no to the office candy jar, join a once a week yoga class… there are many low-intensity options for starting on a path for success. Start small and your health will slowly, but surely, begin to turn around for the better.

At the end of the day it isn’t how you look, there is beauty in all human life. It’s how you are taking care of your one body in this one lifetime. We can’t truly control all our health outcomes but we can definitely give ourselves the best odds by doing what we can to decrease our risks of chronic conditions that will steal quality and quantity of life.


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