What is Healthy?

"I want to lose weight" is an answer I often hear when talking to new clients to my question, "What is your goal?"

When I investigate further, we come up with quantifiable goals: to release body fat (refer to Lose Body Fat or Release Body Fat to understand the change in vocabulary) and decrease their body fat %. The clients explain how they may have lost 5lbs in the past, only to put the weight back on as well as additional 5-10lbs of fat. (Keep in mind, we do not know if they lost fat or muscle since the only number to track was weight). Why can't the client lose the fat and keep it off. In order for someone to release body fat, they need to become healthy.

What is healthy?

While most clients define "healthy" as feeling good, how my jeans fit, or how tired they are at the end of the day, how do we currently define health in our country? How can we measure health in our country in an objective and quantifiable way?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). The American Heart Association explains, "The key to preventing cardiovascular disease, also called coronary artery disease (CAD), is managing your risk factors." Body fat %, blood pressure, cholesterol (“fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides), fasting blood glucose, waist circumference, and reported nicotine use are the main measureable factors which can prevent CAD.

"Regular cardiovascular screening is important because it helps you detect risk factors in their earliest stages,” said Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., director at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and an American Heart Association volunteer. “This way, you can treat the risk factor with lifestyle changes and pharmacotherapies, if appropriate, before it ultimately leads to the development of cardiovascular disease.”

“For many patients, screening results can serve as a wake-up call,” Franklin said. “Higher than optimal cholesterol or body mass index, for example, may drive home the message that it’s time to modify your diet and get more physical activity. When the test comes back and you see abnormal numbers, it becomes personal. Suddenly, the idea of making lifestyle changes isn’t just a recommendation in a pamphlet. It’s something that can impact your life and health.”

If we improve our parameters, not only will we reduce the risk of CAD, we will reduce the risk for many other diseases as well.

Now that we know the parameters for being healthy, how do we define optimal health?

Body Fat %: less than 10% for men and less than 16% for women (Defined by Charles Poliquin)

Waist Circumference: A man whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches; a non-pregnant woman whose waist circumference is more than 35 inches. (Defined by CDC)

-          the numbers listed are not optimal. The fat stored around your waist elevates your risk of CAD. This parameter goes hand in hand with body fat %. If you are lower in body fat, you will have smaller waist circumference (see Body Fat %above).

Fasting Glucose: 84mg/dL (Defined by Kaiser Permanente)

Blood Lipids: (Defined by Dr. Sinatra)

  • Total cholesterol: 180–250 mg/dL (understand the ratio HDL to total cholesterol is more important than the actual number itself)
  • Total HDL cholesterol: 50-120 mg/dL for women; 60-120 mg/dL for men
  • HDL cholesterol subtypes: Greater than 25 mg/dL for HDL2; greater than 15 mg/dL for HDL3
  • Total LDL cholesterol: 80–140 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol subtype Lp(a): less than 30 mg/dL for a standard blood test; less than 10 mg/dL for a VAP test.
  • Total triglycerides: 50–100 mg/dL

Blood pressure: 120/80 mm Hg (systolic pressure is less than 120 AND diastolic pressure is less than 80) (Defined by American Heart Association).

Reported nicotine use: Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers (defined by CDC)

What are you to do?

Understand that fitting into jeans or how tired you are is not a way to define how healthy you are. Body fat %, blood pressure, cholesterol (“fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides), fasting blood glucose, waist circumference, and reported nicotine use are factors which we to predict CAD as well as other diseases. In other words, we use these factors to determine how healthy you are.

Over the next few months, I will explain how each factor affects your body. Each factor has a relationship to one another. I will also show a way to routinely check your health in an easy practical way.

When a person becomes healthy, their body begins a metamorphosis into a leaner healthier body. Thus reducing body fat, and fitting into your jeans!


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified