How Does Your Belly Measure Up?

Tape Measure

Use this to assess your risk for disease.

It seems that many Americans are in denial about their health. With two-thirds of our country classified as over-weight or obese and people looking to lay blame on everything or everyone but themselves, I find it alarming when people are surprised, no SHOCKED, when I tell them they are in the over-weight or obese.To classify people as over-weight or obese, we often measure their height and weight and plug it into an equation to find their Body Mass Index or BMI. It is a ratio of height to weight without taking into account gender or body fat percentage. Because of this, many health professionals look at risk factors for disease in other measures.

Measuring someone’s body fat percentage is the better way to assess their health status, but they are not always available in the privacy of your own home. For more on this, see more about measuring body composition/body fat in my earlier blog post “What Determines a Healthy Weight?”

Another way of measuring disease risk/health status is waist circumference. Gone is the measure of waist-to-hip ratio from the 90’s; measuring the waist circumference is the standard now.

Why measure waist circumference?

Excess abdominal/belly fat increases the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and heart disease – all preventable diseases. When taking into account a BMI between 25 and 35 the waist circumference can help find the risk for these diseases. For example someone with a BMI of 29 but a waist circumference below the cutoff is at less risk than someone with a BMI of 27 and a waist circumference above the cutoff. Someone with a BMI over 35 will very likely be above the cutoff points for waist circumference.

How to measure waist circumference?

Get a tape measure and wrap it around your waist making sure it is parallel to the floor and that the tape measure is not twisted. Do not measure over your clothing, no matter how thin the material. The “right” place to measure is at the top of the hip bone known as the iliac crest. Some people have trouble finding this spot. If you can’t locate the top of your hip bone, then measure the waist at the smallest part making sure you are measuring the waist on not the hips. If there isn’t a smallest part of the waist, you can use the “landmark” of your belly button. You want to make sure the tape measure is on the same parallel to the floor all the way around the body/waist; not lower in the front and higher in the back. Also don’t hold your breath.

One of the biggest mistakes made when measuring waist circumference is measuring underneath the belly. For example, men with larger belly tend to measure where their waistband sits. This isn’t the right place. Men often disagree with my measurement results when I tell them they have a waist circumference of say 42”, when they wear size 36” pants. Not the same…

Now what does that number mean?  

What is the result – without pulling too tight on the tape measure? For women >35” (88 cm) and for men >40” (102 cm) is “at risk.” This measure it the same no matter how tall you are. If you are close to or right at these measures, you need to make sure you don’t gain more weight/fat. If you are at risk, you need to work on losing weight now to help you lose body fat.

It is not possible to cut body fat in one specific part of the body without surgical intervention. However, adding strength/resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and right calories can help reduce overall body fat, and decreasing belly fat in the process.

After working on your eating and exercise habits measure again in six to eight weeks. Make sure you are heading in the right direction.

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Just 8 Weeks to the New Year

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Cold is no excuse to stop exercising.

With just two months left in the year, what is your plan to combat the stressors, the usual end of year “too much to do,” trying-to-fit-it-all-in-and-not-enough-time-for-fitness? Let it all go and then realize you need to “start all over” or be mindful of your actions?

I have a plan. I (almost) always have a plan – just ask my co-workers. I started last week (on Monday, October 31) with my updated plan for the rest of the year. It has three parts:

  1. 620,000 steps completed. Since this started last Monday, October 31, if I calculated correctly, that is an average of 10,000 steps a day through December 31st.  I am wearing my pedometer every day.
  2. Run 200 miles – about 30 miles a week. I run about 4-5 times a week.
  3. Bike 500 miles – about 55 miles a week. I bike about twice a week.

My plan isn’t to beat myself up or exhaust myself, but to stay calm and have an outlet for the stress that inevitably comes, combat temptations and ultimately be the same weight in January as I was in September.

Most of us can do it. I know. When we have the plan to do it, we can. I know many people who have done it.

Whether I will get all 700 miles and 620,000 steps in or not aren’t as important as the effort of trying. If I run 179 miles, bike 476 miles, and get 618,359 steps it is okay. I know that I worked towards getting those miles and steps. Failure would be not trying or putting in the effort and saying, “I’m too tired to do it today,” when I know I will feel better doing it.

What are you doing the next 8 weeks to help you get through the holidays ?

Do you hear what you want to hear?


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Are you always being honest with yourself?

A friend told me the story of her mother’s recent visit to the doctor: In reviewing the result of the patient’s blood work, the patient’s blood sugar control was not a good as it should be (referring to the hemoglobin A1C results). The patient promised to be better and the doctor conceded to let her continue with her lifestyle changes and no medication as a result of this visit. The doctor’s instructions/orders: no desserts except for birthdays; the patient agreed. No problem, just birthdays.

What the doctor didn’t know: this patient has six children, all married, 17
grandchildren, many of whom are also married, and 23 great-grand children! With that much family, she averages a birthday a week, sometimes more. This doesn’t include the birthday’s she celebrates with her friends – she can’t leave out her friends. Giggling about this, she also said she could perhaps stand outside Wal-Mart and ask everyone when his or her birthday is, so when she had her dessert every day, she could say “This is for Tracy’s birthday, the woman I met at Wal-Mart.”And she honestly was not going against her doctor’s wishes.

Many of you have heard the story of my grandmother, of when diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 79, asked her oncologist, at the same appointment he was giving her treatment options, if she needed to quit smoking. He told her, “I’d like you to.” (Personally, I think he was just stunned by the question.) She said, “He didn’t say ‘yes’.” She did quit a short time later but it was only because you can’t smoke in the ICU.

The point I am making here is for both the practitioners AND the patients/clients:

Practitioners: We must be literal with our patients. And, be careful with what you say, and how you say it. If we aren’t careful with what we say the patients, knowing full well what we mean, will take our words literally. We need to be specific. For example, don’t tell someone  they can have a hamburger “once in a while” or “on occasion.” Your “once in a while” or “on occasion” may mean one a month while their “once in a while” may mean every 48 hours.

Don’t speak in jargon. We must admit that we do speak in jargon, and may not realize it. Ask our patients and clients if they understand what we are saying.

Patients/clients: A lot of times our patients/clients know what their health professionals are telling them, but they choose to believe otherwise. If you truly don’t know what your practitioner is telling you, ASK. Do you really think that a hamburger every other day is fine? If you don’t know what your practitioner means by “once in a while” then ASK him or her. Really.

Also, when you don’t give your health care practitioner the truth, aren’t forthcoming, or have led yourself to believe something that isn’t entirely correct, you aren’t helping yourself. And we can’t help you be healthier. By this I mean don’t say, “I exercise all the time,” when you really mean, “I was an athlete in high school” or “I sit in a chair on the side-line of my kid’s soccer game and watch them exercise.” Driving you kids around to their activities makes you active but that isn’t exercise. (I am a parent, I know.)

Both sides need to get better with communicating, getting more clear with what they mean, and being more honest with themselves and their healthcare providers.

Hotels Helping Your Health

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Fitness in your room when you travel.

When you travel what do you look for in a hotel? Of course, most people will choose price and/or hotel chain if they have a preferred guest program. But what amenities do you look for? Free internet? Cable? Breakfast? On-site restaurant? I like to know if the hotel has an on-site fitness center at no extra cost (if you have been to Las Vegas you know what I am talking about) or what I think is even better, a place to safely run outside (The Las Vegas Strip does the trick early in the morning). But even if you look for the fitness center, you can’t trust that it will fit you needs even when it has pictures. A fitness center at a hotel I stayed at last month included a treadmill, an elliptical and a fitness ball in a room smaller than my bedroom. Let’s just say it would be uncomfortable if two people were in the room too. I won’t even discuss the “pool.”

Now for those of you who think it is weird think about exercise while traveling, not all of us whole travel are on vacation, and not all of us who exercise need a vacation from exercise. Follow? You should see the fitness rooms at the nutrition conferences! When my husband and I traveled to Hawai’i in 2006 he took his bike with him (I went the cheap route and took my running shoes) and he rode nearly every day we were there. We enjoy our fitness and fit it in even on vacation. It also helps burn off the Mai Tai’s. Even when we went to Boston in November we fit in fitness by walking everywhere, even when it rained. Thankfully the hotel provided umbrellas.

Back to the hotel amenities; a recent article in the Money section of The Wall Street Journal Money (August 7, 2011) “Business or Pleasure, Health is Hot for Hotels” – mentions that more and more hotels are offering health, fitness and wellness amenities for travelers, mostly targeting business travelers, but anyone can enjoy these services. We are talking more than just the fitness center or a map of running trails. This is the in room fitness equipment to gear to staff to help you with your wellness.

I have also seen, but not used, the RunWESTIN ™ Hotel Running Concierge at the Westin Hotel in Boston. I thought this was so cool, but was not staying at the Westin then. I think I heard that I could have used the services even though I was not a guest, but the timing wasn’t right for me (I think the time they met to go run I had a meeting at the same time). I’m guessing other hotels in the Westin chain may also have this service, but I don’t know. I know that some hotels have partnerships with fitness clothing/running shoe companies to “loan” you these items if you have arrived without them for various reasons (airline lost your luggage and you need blow off some energy – not that it would happen), they have it for you.

While Comfort Inn or Motel 6 may not have these services, check out whether the hotel you are staying in has any fitness amenities and use them. If they don’t have these services, ask them anyway to let them know that you are interested and perhaps more hotels will offer these services. Exercising will give you the energy to get through those meetings, or burn some calories for another Pina Colada.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any hotel chain mentioned in this post.

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The Nouveau Water: Coconut Water

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Coconut water is the liquid found inside the green coconut.

In 1994, when I was in Jamaica, I got my first taste of coconut water. A man on the street was selling green coconuts and when someone wanted one, he would cut off the top of the coconut just enough for a small hole, and insert a straw. I needed both hands to hold the coconut, and I drank the liquid inside the coconut and then tossed it. This is coconut water. It wasn’t sweet, cold or particularly enjoyable, but I wanted to try it and these things you do when you are in such places.

Coconut water is different from coconut milk. Coconut milk is the product of pressing, squeezing, and otherwise pulverizing the “meat” of the coconut, or the white part of the inside of a coconut that most people are familiar with. As a kid, the first time I had the meat of the coconut and wondered why it wasn’t sweet. I don’t eat coconut often, but when I do, it is usually mixed with egg whites and covered in dark chocolate, but I digress. Canned coconut milk has about 50 grams of fat, most of it saturated fat, and over 450 calories in one cup. But most people don’t drink coconut milk straight.

Two years ago it was difficult, if not impossible, to find coconut water without buying an actual coconut. Today, you can find several brands at the grocery stores: O.N.E., Zico, and Vita Coco to name a few. Plain coconut water has about 45 calories and no fat in one cup; very different from coconut milk.

What is the benefit of coconut water?

While 45 calories is much more than the zero calories of plain water, it is about the same as some of the flavored waters (such as Vitamin Water or SoBe Life Water). Coconut water is also a source of the electrolytes sodium (25-50 mg/cup) and potassium (~480 mg/cup) – making it a choice for active people (athletes) who would like to replace electrolytes lost during exercise. However, comparing sports drinks specifically made for athletes, one cup has 50 calories, 110 mg sodium, and 30 mg of potassium.

Now, many people will “argue” that the sports drink is a lot of calories/sugar. As you see the calories are pretty much the same. As for the source of those calories – all the calories in coconut water comes from sugar (all naturally occurring) just like the sports drinks (though this sugar is “added”). For an ATHLETE, the sugar from either beverage is necessary for him/her to stay hydrated and refuel. The difference is that the coconut water has much less sodium and much more potassium than the sports beverage. While this is good for the general consumer, most athletes lose a lot more sodium during exercise than potassium (though both are necessary).

Bottom Line: While coconut water certainly isn’t harmful, plain water is the best bet for everyday hydration (cheaper and no calories). However, if you need help with staying hydrated, and you don’t drink water, this could be an alternative. If you are an athlete, you would do better with a sports drink specifically made for athletes that has a better sodium/potassium ratio.

As for my consumption of coconut water – I have tried it again, filtered and cold. I find it tastes much better this way. I prefer plain, but only drink it once in a while.

No affiliation with O.N.E., Vita Coco, Zico, any sports drink company, or the man in Jamaica. Calorie content obtained from CalorieKing.com.

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Spring Training – What are you doing this Spring?


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What are you doing this spring?

The first thing we delete from our busy schedules is what can help us handle it best: healthy diet/eating, exercise and proper sleep.

Because I am acutely aware of this, I make a point to put these priorities, and family time, first and sometimes the extras are set aside (like posting regularly to my blog). I’ve missed it.

Spring is a crazy time of year for so many of us (as are summer, fall and winter, it doesn’t stop). Some weekends may have nothing happening (if you are a lucky one), but then other weekends it seems that everything is happening: family events, children’s soccer games AND little league games, many social activities, city-wide events/festivals to enjoy, and a holiday/birthday/anniversary thrown into the mix.

Another sign of spring, at least for me, is that nearly every weekend has a running or biking event in which I am participating or I would like to take part.

In just a couple of weeks, for our household, it starts: between my husband and I we have something every weekend.

  • April 16: Albuquerque Half Marathon – I’m losing track of how many 13.1 milers now, but Athlinks.com says this will be my 8th.
  • April 24: Easter Sunday and my niece’s first birthday…it this throwing you off this year?
  • May 1: Run for the Zoo 10K, which is a tradition for me now AND the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5 mile walk (thrown off by Easter this year).
  • May 8: Mother’s Day and my first SPRINT Triathlon: Jay Benson. Swimming is in the pool in case you were wondering.
  • May 15: Santa Fe Century, which for me is a half century…because this is a hard century.
  • May 21: a special weekend with my husband, which will likely include a bike ride
  • May 28: Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from Durango to Silverton (Colorado) – This is not my event, but my husband’s, but I get to still drive to Colorado
  • June 4: Albuquerque Century Tour de Cure, in which this year I will once again attempt a 100 mile bike ride in one day. Last year, I was not successful with the 100 miles, but a “mere” 65 due to >100 degree temps.
  • June 11: Valles Caldera 10K – my first time here too. They also have a marathon and half marathon, but I plan on taking a break this weekend.
  • Jun 17-18: Relay for Life in Albuquerque – a walk, but a very important one.

Is this crazy? Nah, this is our regular spring in my household. The summer becomes more erratic with events, but once September comes around, things pick up again for a couple of months. It’s all good.

Let me know if you are doing any of these events, or anything throughout the U.S.; I would love to hear about it.

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My Snowshoe Escapade: A Rookie No More!

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Me with Sam (our leader!) and one of the beautiful NM views behind us.

Last week I took on a new venture: snowshoeing. I wanted to try snowshoeing for years, and the opportunity presented itself when UNM Recreational Services offered a group snowshoe hike.

After asking a few people with snowshoeing experience if they thought I could do it, I signed up to go. I had some reservations after the sub-freezing temperatures we had throughout New Mexico a couple of weeks ago, but the day was a beautiful sunny day – typical for New Mexico. I carefully planned several layers of clothing. I get cold and hate being cold, but I knew with the sun and the exercise it would get warm quickly.

Set with gear, clothing and snacks we drove up to Santa Fe’s Aspen Vista Trail. While this is a forest service road, starting at 10,000 feet at the parking lot, we took the scenic route through the aspen trees straight up hill…

While snowshoeing is like walking with very wide shoes, this was a HIKE, not a walk. We would stop for regular breaks to let everyone re-group and catch their breath. Here is how the first half of the hike went: uphill, uphill, meadow, hill, and hill. It was invigorating and warm.

The hike uphill was just over one mile in distance, but a climb of over 1,000 feet. When we emerged near the top of the Santa Fe Ski Area’s Super Chief chair lift at 11,250 feet it was clear, sunny and a bit windy, but with spectacular views of New Mexico. It was worth the higher heart rate!

After a short lunch with the group, and learning to maneuver sitting down and standing up in snowshoes (lots of laughing), we headed back down the mountain. This is a little trickier, and much faster, but still 100% fun.

Some of us went off the trail and ventured into untouched powder, which was an adventure on its own. Tumbling, sliding and hysterical laughter soon became the norm. By now, we had unzipped jackets and gloves stashed into pockets. It was warm and even falling in the snow with bare hands didn’t slow us down. We dried and warmed up quickly.

Back at the parking low, things got chilly quickly. But with some hot chocolate with marshmallows and new friends all around, we drove back to Albuquerque.

I had a great time, wasn’t sore or achy, but I was in bed and asleep by 9:30 that night. I can’t wait until next time.

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