We all know someone like this: On a first-name basis with “Little Debbie,” doesn’t exercise, and is skinny as a rail and likes to brag about it. They are proud of the fact that they have never stepped foot in a fitness center nor walked any farther than from the couch to the refrigerator.
As someone who has to exercise a minimum of five days per week, eat healthy the majority of the time, and has never been described as skinny, sometimes it is downright depressing. I grew up with one of those in my house, my little brother. He has always been thin. Even at the age of 53, where the only exercise he gets is his job as an electrician, playing pool in a league, and eating anything and everything fried, he looks great. I hate him! (Sorry about that mom!) Those fortunate few like my brother, who inherit a high metabolism, may think they are in the clear for problems and issues that befall the rest of us mere mortals, but this is not the case. Exercise and proper diet are the only thing between them and a date with illness.
Here is another illustration of what I mean. Several years ago I competed in a half marathon at Myrtle Beach. Five miles into the race, a man collapsed of an apparent heart attack. The first thing we all assumed was that he was overweight and out of shape. Turns out that this man looked like a body builder, big and muscular. It was apparent by what happened that he had probably spent a lot of time lifting weights and not much time running. On the outside he looked healthy but in reality he was not. Just because someone looks the part does not mean they are really healthy.
Let’s take a look at a few health problems that can befall even the thinnest of the thin and the buffest of the buff.
— High cholesterol: Cholesterol levels can be high no matter what the body type. High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) contribute to heart disease and stroke. The guidelines for cholesterol for persons of any body type are a total cholesterol of less than 200 and HDL (good cholesterol) greater than 45. Cholesterol levels should be checked at least yearly through a blood test to establish a ratio of good and bad. In addition, a healthy diet including lean meats, fruits and vegetables, will help keep cholesterol levels in check. Exercise, particularly strength training, can also increase the levels of HDL.
— High blood pressure: While blood pressure can be influenced indirectly by excess body weight, thin people can suffer from it as well. Weight aside, a diet that is high in sodium and fat can lead to dangerously high blood pressure. Genetics and stress can be factors, too. Safe blood pressure norms are at or below 120/80. Regardless of body type, BP should be monitored on an ongoing basis.
— Poor cardiovascular fitness: Just because a person is not overweight does not mean they don’t need to exercise. Lack of fitness can lead to all kinds of health problems and concerns. Thirty to 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, swimming) is essential for overall health. Spending all one’s time lifting weights will not do the trick either. A healthy balance of strength training and cardiovascular exercise is the key. CrossFit, my exercise of choice, is the best of both worlds, combining strength and cardiovascular training in one workout.
— Lack of preventative healthcare: Even if you think you are healthy, it is best to let an expert be the judge. Nearly 50 percent of all people never see a physician until they are already sick. Yearly medical exams including blood work can head off problems that may arise down the road. What you don’t know, can hurt you.
For those of you who fall into the mythical category of “Apparently Healthy” while doing nothing to contribute to it, are you sufficiently chastised? You can keep skating along in your size 2 jeans eating Big Macs and taunting the rest of us or you can eat better and join the rest of us in the gym. The choice is up to you; live hard, die young and leave a good looking corpse or you can make positive changes in your health to ensure a long and happy life.
Kathy Hansen has over 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]