Cutting through the numbers game for body composition

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Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and body composition are central goals of good health.

However, how you do know the difference between all the buzzwords surrounding the topic? Can you name the difference between your BMI, your FM and LBM or %BF?

What's a waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and why does it matter? And if someone asks you if you're an apple or a pear are they really talking about your preferred choice of pie or something different?

In an attempt to simplify, consider the following facts:

Weight: When you step on the scale, that number simply represents how much you weigh or the full amount of your body mass.

BMI: Body Mass Index is simply a ratio of your weight to your height. The resulting number is often seen on a chart at your doctor's office. However, this is not the only number that matters. In fact, most experts understand at this point BMI should ideally be used in conjunction with other body-composition tests, since BMI uses total body weight.

FM and FFM: Your total body weight is made up of fat mass and fat-free mass or lean body mass. Fat- free mass or lean body mass is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood and bone.

%BF: Your percent body fat is the ratio of fat mass to lean body mass.

WHR: Your waist-to-hip ratio is a simple way to assess the fat distribution on your body which helps you identify your shape. Pear shaped bodies gain and hold weight in the hip area (gynoid obesity) whereas apple-shapes gain weight in the abdominal area (android obesity).

So the question is, "why does this matter?"

The answer is strangely simple. The number on the scale that seems so important is only a piece of the picture of your overall health.

As our bodies age it is very likely that your weight may not have changed much but your body shape has. That's because your body composition has changed over time.

Take some time to talk with your doctor about what these numbers mean for you. Find a certified trainer who can take your measurements and find your body composition.

It might not be the most fun thing you've done that day, but it will be a great way to take a snapshot of your health and get you moving in the right direction.

Leslie Snyder is group exercise director and a personal trainer at the Walla Walla YMCA. She holds professional certifications in group exercise, personal training and as a certified health coach with the American Council on Exercise.

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