The Measure of a Woman
Barbara Hannah Grufferman, Founder & Editor, Menopause Cheat Sheet
No one likes being measured. But, we live in an imperfect world, filled with all kinds of complicated and unfair ways to measure a person’s skills, talents, character, abilities, and worth. While certain numbers can be tossed in the can, there are some you should pay attention to. Let’s take a deep dive into measurements that are truly important . . . and those you can kiss goodbye. #ShowMeTheNumbers
THREE MEASUREMENTS WE JUST DON’T LIKE.
Age is just one aspect of the human measurement stick. Age is a measurement of one’s life of which we should all make note, of course, and celebrate (with joy!) each year. However, it should never define you. It is, after all, just a number.
Another is weight. Women often, but not always, gain weight when going through menopause. It’s insidious because it sneaks up on you. And, if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening, and don’t make the necessary changes to what to eat, or how to move your body, the postmenopausal pounds will come. While weighing yourself is definitely one measurement most people use, it can be tricky. Because it’s less about the exact number you see on the scale and more about whether that number happens to be your ideal healthy weight. How will you know? Ask yourself (and your physician) these questions: 1) do you feel good? 2) do you have energy? 3) are your health check numbers in the ‘normal’ range? If the answers are yes, yes, and yes, then those should be your guide, not the scale.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is an obsolete way to measure health and fitness, and here’s why. Since the 1980s, two simple measurements have been used to assess people’s overall health: height and weight. After an easy calculation, you can determine your body mass index, or BMI. But, using BMI as a way to measure overall health is misleading for a simple reason: because BMI is based on weight, it doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle, telling us nothing about body composition.
Consider this: a body builder without an ounce of fat on her, and a couch potato who is overweight with a large belly (indicating central obesity or visceral fat, more on that below), can have the same height and weight, and therefore the same BMI. But, the body builder will have much more muscle mass than fat. Who do you think is healthier?
A study conducted by psychologists at UCLA showed the results of what happened when the researchers measured the subjects’ BMIs in conjunction with other measures: almost half of those people who were labeled “obese” or “overweight” because of their BMIs were healthy; and over a third of those with normal BMIs were considered unhealthy. Clearly measuring overall health using BMI only is . . . obsolete.
NUMBERS THAT MATTER.
There are measurements essential to our well-being, and these are numbers we should truly care about — and know — especially as we get older:
Height: Get your height checked every year or two to make sure you’re not losing inches. Some loss of height is normal as we age, but too much can indicate bone loss due to osteoporosis or a spinal deformity like scoliosis. On average, Americans lose about half an inch of height per decade after turning 40, but a lot of that can be slowed down by a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Waist size: Visceral fatis a sneaky, evil kind of fat that you can’t see. It worms its way around your internal organs, and is metabolized by the liver, which turns it into cholesterol in the blood. Having excess belly fat (even if you’re in the “normal weight” category) puts you at much greater risk for all kinds of health issues: metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, and even sexual dysfunction in men. How do you know if you have it? Skip the scale and bring out the tape measure: your waist size should be less than 35 inches. The best way to get rid of belly fat (which is actually much easier to shed than the extra padding around your tush or thighs) is to move your body by walking (see below) or running at least 30 minutes every day. And cut back on foods your know are not good for you. Cheat Sheet Tip: Ease into a weight loss program by taking this approach.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio: The proportion of your waist to your hips is a predictor of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Measure your waist at the smallest point, then measure your hips at the widest point. Divide the first number by the second. Your goal? Less than 0.85.
Daily steps: It’s been established by many sources and studies that walking 10,000 steps every day, not even all at the same time, is essential to good health and overall fitness. And, it will help shed the evil visceral fat for good. Buy a simple pedometer and put it on in the morning and check periodically to make sure you’ll reach your goal by evening. Remember this: every single step puts you one step closer to better health.
Blood pressure: Simply put, blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls when the heart beats and then rests. The ideal blood pressure for women is less than 120/70. BP of 140/90 or higher indicates hypertension (high blood pressure), which means your heart is working a lot harder than it should. Hypertension is directly linked to lifestyle — smoking, not moving your body, too much belly fat (see above), and eating too much salty processed food. If you make small changes in your life, you can naturally bring your pressure down, however, sometimes genetics plays a part, and meds might be necessary.
Triglyceride: Your triglyceride level is another strong indicator of potential cardiovascular disease. Triglycerides are a type of fat (similar to cholesterol) found in the blood. The acceptable numbers for women are lower than those for men. Even though the American Heart Association says that the acceptable level is under 150, recent studies conducted by the AHA and the Women’s Health Initiative suggest that a postmenopausal woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease increases after her level goes beyond 50, and most women (and many doctors) are not familiar with these latest studies. This should be an essential part of the discussion you have with your primary care physician at your next annual check up.
Cholesterol: The ideal cholesterol level for women is under 200 total. The HDL (known as the “good” cholesterol) should be higher than 60, and the LDL (“bad”) should be under 100. If a woman has a total cholesterol level of over 240, that is considered high. Again, lifestyle plays a major role, but genetics can also influence your number. We know that having high cholesterol levels in your blood, and especially if the LDL level is high, puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Resting Heart Rate: Your pulse, especially measured while you’re sitting still, is a key indicator of cardiovascular health, so check your heart rate regularly. Here’s how: put two fingers on your pulse — either at your neck or wrist — and count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four to get the number of beats per minute. Or, make your life easy and wear a fitness watch or band that measures your heart rate continuously, even while sleeping. Your target resting heart rate is between 60 – 100 beats per minute, but 60 is ideal. Cheat Sheet Tip: an effective tool for lowering your resting heart rate is this (video included!).
Blood Sugar (Glucose): Your ability to regulate blood sugar is harder once you’re over fifty. The ideal level is under 100. Blood sugar levels normally go up and down during the course of the day. If you’re taking good care of yourself — eating well and moving your body — the shifts are minor. However, if you’re not, blood sugar levels can spike and crash, wreaking all kinds of havoc with your body and your brain, and can precede diabetes. The single most effective way to regulate blood sugar is — drum roll, please — by eating healthy foods and moving your body every day. Cheat Sheet Tip: take a 30 minute walk after dinner every night to cut your risks.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D’s importance in promoting bone health and reducing risk of osteoporosis by helping with the absorption of calcium is well established. But there’s ongoing evidence that the “sunshine vitamin” can reduce the risk of other diseases, as well. The ideal level of vitamin D is 34 mg/ml or higher. Postmenopausal women should take between 1,200 and 1,500 IU every day. However many doctors we interviewed confided that they personally take at least 2,000. So do we.
Sunscreen on the skin: We know that too much sun can cause wrinkles, brown spots, and most importantly, skin cancer. Experts recommend applying sunscreen to all exposed areas of the body, rain or shine and all year long, with a minimum of SPF 30 and preferably 50. However, the benefits of going higher than 50 are marginal. Look for broad spectrum sunscreens with the following ingredients: Mexoryl, titanium dioxide, and Parsol 1789.
AND ALSO . . . THIS.
Let’s add one more test, shall we? Barbara wrote about this in her book, Love Your Age, and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. Don’t say we didn’t warn you: it’s not easy.
Wait, there’s more! If you want to get really ambitious, check out this “How Fit Are You?” list from the Mayo Clinic. If you’re not so very happy with the grade you just got, check out these five moves that will strengthen — even transform — your body.
This silent killer must be stopped
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Barbara wrote this overview — and the story about a dear friend whose mother succumbed to ovarian cancer — to raise awareness of this dreadful cancer that kills almost 15,000 women a year. There still is no cure, and women are still dying. Our risks increase the older we get, so we want all of you to pay special attention to this information, because early detection is essential for survival. Know your risks, know the signs, listen to your body.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman, Founder and Editor of Menopause Cheat Sheet, is a highly regarded speaker, award-winning author of two books — Love Your Age: The Small-Step Solution to a Better, Longer, Happier Life and The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More — and also serves as President of Best of Everything Media. Barbara has been a guest on every major morning talk show including Today, Live with Kelly & Ryan, CBS Morning Show, Dr. Phil, The Talk, Dr. Oz and The Doctors. A champion of proactive and positive aging, she has been a contributor to AARP, Growing Bolder, HuffPost and is also a founding member of the Fashion Flash group of bloggers, which reaches hundreds of thousands of women each week. Barbara is a trustee and Ambassador for the National Osteoporosis Foundation and Ambassador for HealthyWomen.org. She started running shortly before turning 50 and has since completed nine marathons, an ultra-marathon and many shorter-distance races. Barbara is currently at work on her third book.