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The numbers that (don’t) matter

We all like numbers. They motivate and drive us to do better by giving us something to focus on. We need to realize that these numbers are created by us and not many of them have much physiological significance. The excessive focus on certain numbers is only promoting obsessive behaviour among us. In my world, numbers matter, but only the ones that satisfy one major criterion –they need to make sense. Today, we’ll discuss a few well-known numbers and talk about what parts of them make sense and what parts don’t.

Scale weight

This is the most basic number that tends to drive -- positively and negatively -- most people in the urban world today. How much one weighs has become more important than how successful, happy or healthy one is. While the scale weight is a rather decent way to assess overall increase or decrease in body mass, that’s all there is to it. In other words, it helps you stay away from extremes. The problem with basing everything on this one number is that it doesn’t tell you the full story. For someone who stand six-feet tall, 50 kilos is too less and 130 kilos is too much and that’s all we can tell. Whether 90 kilos is too high or too less for the same person depends on the person’s body composition, gender and age.

If you’re someone who trains regularly and eats wholesome food, your focus should move away from the scale. As long as you’re not obviously over or under weight, it matters less how much you weigh. Instead, ask yourself a few questions – do I like the way I look? Do my clothes fit well? Am I happy with my fitness levels? Am I able to do physical tasks without discomfort? Am I disease free? Because, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

BMI

Body mass index, though by definition is a measure of a person’s body shape based on the individual’s height and weight, is a number that doesn’t make much sense across the board. Your body mass index is calculated by dividing your mass (body weight) in kilogram by the square of your height in meters. For example, a male who weighs 85 kilos and is 5’ 10” (1.8 meters) tall has a BMI of 26.8 which falls under the overweight category.

Underweight - Below 18.5

Normal -18.5 to 24.9

Overweight - 25 to 29.9

Obese - 30 and above

But what BMI doesn’t take into account is the difference between fat mass and lean mass. In other words, a fat and flabby 85 kg person with 40 per cent body fat who is 1.8 meters tall is mapped exactly the same as a fit and strong 85 kg person with 10 per cent body fat who is 1.8 meters tall. For that reason, the BMI is a flawed metric and isn’t something you need to concern yourself with.

Body fat percentage

If BMI is the number that is falsely used to assess the general public, body fat percentage (BF percentage) is the number used to falsely assess the part of the population that is fitness minded. There are a dozen ways to measure your BF percentage today, but unfortunately, none of them are ideal. They are either prohibitively expensive or inaccurate or inconvenient. That being the case, consistently and methodically monitoring a drop or rise in one’s body fat percentage becomes impossible.

So, unless you are a professional athlete or bodybuilder, how much percentage of your body weight is fat is something that will never be relevant. If you don’t like the way you look or feel or function, fix that by focusing on training, nutrition and lifestyle.

Noted for his passionate, no-nonsense approach to health living, the writer is a fitness and nutrition expert and entrepreneur.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 4:07:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/The-numbers-that-don%E2%80%99t-matter/article14568177.ece

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