More Than ‘Waste’ Line

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

You know it. That’s great — being thin is the best element you could have on their CV. Wait a minute. You may be wrong. Because, when you look around and ‘picture’ successful people with big waistlines, you’d possibly know the truth. Big waistlines represent good fortune and prosperity. The longer the belt, the shorter the life, in medical parlance, corresponds to a healthier bank balance. Besides, there was a time, not long ago, when ‘size-zero’ was considered sick. This brings us to the big question — what is healthy weight for you?

That being well and comfortable is vital for healthy weight is obvious — but, take a look at the relative use of the two terms in question. This does not, of course, mean that you care two hoots for your waistline. Just the opposite, because there is enough evidence to show that being overweight puts you at amplified health risks, some of them serious — for instance, high blood pressure [hypertension], heart disorders, diabetes, and gall bladder disease.

As a matter of fact, losing weight is an important part of any early treatment plan for health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes etc. More than reason enough why research contends a paradox — that having a few ‘supplementary’ pounds in life may not be as dangerous as it once seemed to be. It may, contrary to popular opinion, actually protect you.

As for individuals who are not yet overweight, or obese, and over age 45, but have a few additional pounds, you would obviously need to weigh your choices cautiously before going on a diet plan.

This article reviews the precise effects of aging on your body weight and focuses just as much on the measure of what it means to be overweight. The basic idea is, of course, formulated to enable you to make your own personal decisions as to how best you’d reduce your weight without risks.

Aging is a natural process. Simple — as you get older, you age. Besides, you tend to consume fewer calories than you did when you were younger. But, the irony is — you seem to gain more weight. You wonder why. There are reasons for this to happen. First and foremost — with aging, your muscle mass decreases, and your activity levels also drop down. This leads to a situation where you could make do with less energy requirements. Life also changes: you are not like the hare you were before. You don’t run to catch the 8:23am local train, or bus, anymore, you don’t play active sport, or even if you do, you accept defeat on the tennis court with a smile, not frown. And, you may also ask for a glass of fresh lemon juice, not biscuits.

Pace Of Life

You feel nice with what you are doing — after having slowed down the pace of life. However, you find yourself locking horns with a knotty issue. As you age, you find it difficult to burn, or knock, those ‘ever-present’ additional deposits of fat, around your waist, or hips. This was not a problem when you were younger — you would throw a grand party, eat with ‘gluttonish’ appetite, if not intent, and quickly burn your ‘excess’ fat. However, at 45-plus, you find it an uphill task to pull the ‘waist’ of your trousers to fit around your belly.

When your ‘reduced’ energy needs, owing to aging, are not in step with equivalent decline in food consumption, your body’s fat depot only increases in size. It is a satirical equation. If you knew how the average muscle mass changes with aging, you would be puzzled — more so, when you don’t stay in shape. When you reach old age, your body scan, for instance, will show a shrunken muscle mass — which is a small fraction of its ‘young’ size. This could be a major jolt for you.

It all depends upon how you respond — of decreased activity, reduced lean body mass and increased fat. One sure way of stopping aging in its tracks is getting more active. Exercising, for 25-30 minutes every day, is one good way of improving your muscle mass. It also helps to improve your appetite. When you boost your mental and physical activity your ‘extra luggage’ will go to the right places. The resultant benefits are just as healthy — physical activity promotes sound sleep, it helps you feel confident about yourself, and, in the process, it reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Besides, when you carry a few extra pounds of fat around your waistline, while being ‘fit,’ which is better than being thin and unfit, you will sure live longer and healthier.

Caloric Intake

Research evidences that if you substantially reduce the intake of calories, you will live longer. In addition, you will remain healthier with fewer disease invasions — including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. You will not only live life to the full, but you will also enjoy living a full life — a life with or without well-entrenched and difficult-to-treat diseases.

This does not, however, mean that you should starve to reach your ripe old age. Far from it. Just look at the data compiled by insurance companies. It will be clear that the longest lived people are individuals in the middle-weight categories — not those who have been underweight and grossly overweight, who also tend to have the shortest lifespan, barring some exceptions [Note: By the way, there’s no clear-cut evidence to support serious ‘fasting,’ as a mode of longevity as is practiced in certain traditional societies].

The National Institutes of Health, US, uses a gold standard to measure and define weight. This is called the body mass index [BMI], albeit there are other useful parameters. The body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kilogram by your height in metre squared. For you to being the right weight, you need to have a BMI below 25. In today’s fast-paced life and era of junk-food, most people would fall into the overweight category — this is enough reason for the surplus of diet pills.

Well, the point also is — it is not the overweight among us who are laughing their way to better life; it is the diet pill companies that are laughing their way to the bank instead. Yet, there is a silver-lining. If you are overweight with a BMI of 26+ and don’t have high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnoea, or arthritis, you need not worry about the extra kilos around your waist. A few additional kilograms do not necessarily reduce your longevity, provided you exercise, are not a smoker; don’t have a high [‘bad’] cholesterol level; or, a family history of heart disease.

Research also suggests that a few extra pounds might even protect you. A Swedish Hip Fracture Study found that women who gained weight during adult life had a significantly decreased risk of hip fracture. Studies, in comparison, have shown that women who lose weight have a substantially increased risk of hip fracture — a life-threatening condition.

It is construed that a little bit of additional weight protects you from a hip fracture, thanks to the cushioning around your hips. This cushioning effect also helps absorb at least some of the shock of a fall. It is said to prevent the much-distressing hip fracture too — what’s more, having a few extra pounds, later in life, may improve your health and longevity. You’d rather believe it, because the study conducted on individuals, aged 70-plus, found that those with the best chances of survival had a BMI in the range of 27-29 [men] and 25-27 [women]. This, of course, does not give you the visa to ‘feast’ on sweets, fast-food, brownies, cheesecake, and so on.

The most ideal thing for you to do to lose weight sensibly and safely is to seek the counsel of your physician, dietician and/or health counsellor. They would know what regimen, or plan, suits your needs best.

To rephrase Dr Edward Schneider, MD, the respected gerontologist, and author of AgeLess: Take Control of Your Age and Stay Youthful for Life [Rodale Books], a fantastic ‘how-to’ book on aging, “If you are serious about dieting, start by lowering your [‘bad’] fat intake, for example saturated and transfats [butter, lard] — while moderating your ‘good’ monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat consumption [omega-3, among others]. If you consume the same amount of calories, there is no evidence that replacing fat with protein, or carbohydrate, will result in weight loss. However, lowering your [‘bad’] fat intake will at least help prevent heart disease.”

Now, let’s look at a significant panorama — new research has opened up the flood gates of the potential health status of tinsel starlets and fashion models that don’t put on a few pounds in their 30s. Put simply, it is always better to be discreet — you need to keep that waistline at its optimal level. A little padding is okay, provided you lead an active life. Being overweight is, of course, a big no.

There is yet another angle to the issue — adding a few pounds to your hips, as current research suggests, may not be as dangerous, or injurious, to your health and longevity as additional pounds added to your waistline. You gotcha the equation right — it is desirable to bear a resemblance to a pear, not apple. Never sport the huge beer bellies — an avoidable element that we all often seem to bump into everywhere. A pot-belly is a significant health risk, and early ‘candidate’ to major health affections — high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer etc., [Note: The National Institutes of Health guideline of using your BMI to determine your health also recognises the importance of measuring your waistline in addition to your height and weight. A waist measurement of more than 40 inch for men is suggested to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes; for women, a waistline of more than 35 inch is just as much a health hazard].

Weight Loss Deaths

There have been reports of deaths among people who have tried to reduce weight overnight — either by way of crash dieting, or certain mumbo-jumbo, ‘miracle diet’ pills, and so on. As for individuals who are keen on losing weight, reduce by all means, but make sure you do this safely.

Speak to your physician, and dietician-nutritionist, and try a few simple, safe approaches, which your friends may have used successfully, before you do anything. The best way to losing weight is to avoid a second helping. Once you achieve this objective, you may set achievable goals for yourself: first, try to achieve a ten per cent weight loss. Evaluate your weight loss under the guidance of your physician; you need to give yourself at least six months, not a fortnight, to achieving this goal. If you reduce your daily food intake by 300-500kcal a day, you’d lose 1-2kg a week.

  • Eat at least 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables provide you with all the vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants you need, and with relatively few calories
  • Drink adequate water, and add more fibre, such as flaxseed, to your diet. This is an ideal combination to make you feel full, even though you may consume fewer calories
  • When your weight goal is reached at the end of six months, your body would have adapted itself to your new regimen and needs, so much so that even with your reduced intake of food, you will still be able to maintain your weight. Besides, while you are lowering your intake of food, it is critical that you also increase your physical activity. This will not only benefit your waistline, but will also help your heart and lungs to work better, improve your mood and energy levels, give you a sound night’s sleep, and decrease your risk of serious illnesses
  • Also, remember — the best ploy is not losing weight alone, but keeping it down, with decreased food and optimal nutrient intake, alongside relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and regular physical activity.
Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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