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What's your ideal weight?

07 January 2022

There's BMI, there's the figure on the scales, and then there's the weight at which you feel 'just right' – but which is your ideal weight for health?

How much should you weigh?
What is your ideal weight for health?

Most people have an ‘ideal’ weight in mind, a magic number that they are always aiming for or trying to stick to. But if you’re struggling to get to that figure it could be that it’s not quite the right one – there are many different ways to calculate an ‘ideal’ weight, which in itself shows that really such a thing doesn’t really exist.

Making things more complicated, as you go through different life stages – puberty, adulthood, pregnancy, menopause and so on – your natural body shape changes so what you once considered your ‘ideal’ weight and shape may be more difficult or even impossible to achieve.

So, when you try to calculate your real ideal weight, take the following points into consideration.

What your scales are weighing

First, what does weight consist of?

  • The blood in your body weighs about 7% of your total weight
  • your bones 15%
  • your muscles between 25 and 50% of your body weight
  • the percentage that’s fat can be anything from 6% (for athletic men) to 31% for women (average) and 24% for men (also average)

When your body fat percentage reaches more than 32% for women and 25% for men, you’re considered obese. But given that muscles are such a large proportion of your possible weight, it’s clear that the figure on the scales isn’t necessarily the best figure to rely on, especially if you do strength or resistance training regularly.

A healthy weight means that you’ve got a healthy balance of fat to muscle to bone, so for each person that might be slightly different. For example, depending on your genetic make-up your ‘healthy weight’ may vary from the recommended healthy weight guidelines from the government.

If, for example, you’ve got a small frame with a lot of excess weight, you might be deemed as being within a healthy weight range purely because your small frame balances out the figure.

Similarly, if you’re heavy boned, that could also affect the figure on the scales in a way that makes it seem as though you have more excess weight than you do.

Added to that, it seems there are differences in how our genetic make-up affects our weight. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that the relationship between body fat and body mass index (BMI) in some ethnic groups was different to others, indicating that methods of checking for ‘ideal weight’ might need adjusting depending on your genetic make-up.

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Understanding your Body Mass Index

When your doctor, or other health specialist is trying to find out whether you are a healthy weight for your height, they will probably do this by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). This will give a good idea as to whether you are a healthy weight for your height. If you know your height and weight, you can find out your own BMI on NHS UK’s website.

Ideally, your Body Mass Index (BMI) should be between 20 and 25, but if yours is a little above this, don't panic. In your middle and later years, it may not be such a bad thing to have a BMI that is slightly over the ideal (say, 26), but the way the extra weight is distributed around your body is a significant factor.

Find out why it's important to maintain a healthy level of fat

Is BMI always reliable?

Relied-upon methods such as BMI, for example, can be misleading. Your BMI might be within the normal range, for example, even if your waist size is larger than average for your height and build (on average, 35 inches for women, and 40 inches for men). And yet, research has shown that having a larger waist size is indicative of weight-related health risks such as heart disease and diabetes.

What’s more, if you’re ‘big’ because of muscle, your BMI will read as being higher even if you have low body fat. So while BMI can give you a rough idea of how healthy your weight is, it certainly doesn’t provide a definitive answer.

A way of finding out if you have excess fat is to measure your waist circumference. This can be particularly useful for people who are:

  • overweight BMI of 25 to 29.9
  • obese BMI of 30 to 39.9
  • severely obese BMI of 40 or over

The importance of body shape

Doctors distinguish between apple- and pear-shaped people in assessing the extent to which excess weight might be a health risk.

Apple-shaped

This means that you tend to store fat around your middle and is most common among men and among women around the time of their menopause and after it is complete.

Apples are known to be at increased risk of a range of illnesses, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and are more likely to have raised cholesterol and glucose levels in their blood.

Pear-shaped

This means that any excess fat tends to be stored around the buttocks and thighs and seems to be associated with lower levels of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Apple and pear shapes seem to run in families because they are largely determined by your genetic make-up, but this doesn't mean there's nothing you can do if you happen to come from a long line of 'apples'!

Shape chart

To find out whether you need to take steps to reduce your waist measurement, check it against your height on the Ashwell Shape Chart.

If your BMI is between 25 and 30 and you are a pear, you could easily find that you come into the OK category for your shape. But if the Ashwell Shape Chart shows you are in the Action category, then you really must take steps to reduce your weight which will, in turn, reduce your waist circumference.

Are body fat scales reliable?

You might try using body-fat scales, which have become popular in recent years. Body-fat scales send a small electrical current up through your leg and pelvis to measure how much resistance from fat there is.

These scales aren’t always accurate because they focus the measurement on your legs – if you have thin legs and carry most of your weight around your midriff, for example, the scales will show you as having less body fat than you may actually have.

What’s more, the results can be affected by how much liquid you’ve ingested (having a knock-on effect on how hydrated you are), as well as if you’ve recently exercised.

To make matters even more complicated, there’s no accepted ‘standard’ or average for ideal body fat for a certain height or size person. Your body fat varies depending on your sex, age, fitness levels and even your ethnicity.

Importantly, where your excess body fat is also something to consider. If you have an even distribution of fat compared to someone who is thin but has a fatter midriff, then it’s possible you’re healthier than they are as fat in the abdominal area raises risk of heart disease as well as other health issues.

How can you reach your ideal weight?

So, what can you do? To find your true ideal weight, assess yourself in several ways – use BMI, waist circumference, taking into account your build and naturally propensity towards a certain type of figure, have your body fat checked, and use your own clothing as a guide to when you’ve put on too much weight – but don’t focus reaching a specific figure, instead focus on the process.

Focus on living healthily – eating fresh healthy food, exercising regularly, reducing stress, limiting alcohol and so on – so that managing your weight becomes a day-to-day effort, rather than a far-off goal. Stick to this and your ideal weight will come to you… just like magic.

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.