While our culture often assumes that trim people are also fit, that's not always the case. Even a skinny person can carry excess amounts of fat.
On the flip side, some people are dangerously underweight. Both issues can be addressed with a commitment to lifestyle changes.
When You’re Fat Inside
It's possible to be a normal weight for your height but still have a higher concentration of fat than a simple body mass index (BMI) formula would suggest. The number, which can be determined at a doctor's office or through an online tool, comes from dividing an individual's weight by the square of the height.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, for most people, the BMI tool tells a fairly accurate story, because it's based on the average fat content for people of similar heights and weights. But when people have a suspected higher fat content, doctors may need to measure fat with calipers or other methods.
Having a high level of fat despite a superficially normal BMI is known as "normal weight obesity." According to the Mayo Clinic, this puts you at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. People with normal weight obesity also tend to have lower bone mass and poorer cardiovascular fitness than people of a similar height and weight.
Losing the “Invisible” Fat
Are you of normal weight or skinny but out of breath frequently? If you suspect that you have the characteristics of normal weight obesity, there are still ways you can improve your fitness level.
- Identify the activity level at which you get winded, whether it's as "easy" as basic housekeeping; medium-challenging, like climbing stairs; or difficult, as with jogging.
- Start with the activity that makes you feel winded and ramp up the time and/or the intensity level each time you do it. Add an additional day each week in which you do some cardio, and enlist a friend to help you stick to it.
- Ask your doctor to work with you to create a diet that's lower in saturated fat and refined sugar, while also higher in fiber, healthy fats, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Got the Skinny Person Blues?
If you're not just a skinny person, but significantly underweight, you may be risking health problems. Whether it's by deliberately cutting too many calories, being stressed or having a genetic predisposition toward high metabolism, becoming underweight is not the ticket to good health it might seem to be. Your BMI can give you a sense of whether you're considered underweight for your height.
The American Academy of Family Physicians warns against the dangers of being underweight. Among the health issues a chronically skinny person might face are an increased risk of osteoporosis, lowered immunity, hair loss, anemia, fertility problems and delayed development in teens and younger kids. You're also more likely to be skinny but out of breath more often.
Going From Thin to Fit
If you're skinny but out of breath frequently, your overall fitness level needs improvement. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office on Women's Health offers tips for getting more fit when you're underweight. Their advice includes:
- Working with your doctor to create a diet that gradually increases the number of calories you take in, without using unhealthy foods to achieve those calories
- Creating a fitness plan that keeps your current health condition in mind. If you're seriously underweight, jumping into an intense cardio program may be too much.
- Gradually increasing the amount of cardio you do in each session
- Starting strength training to build muscle mass
- Centers for Disease Control: "What is BMI?"
- Centers for Disease Control: "Adult BMI Calculator"
- Mayo Clinic: "Normal Weight Obesity: A Hidden Health Risk?"
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: "Lean, but Not Healthy: The 'Metabolically Obese, Normal-weight' Phenotype"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does Fitness Trump Thinness?"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Healthy Ways to Gain Weight If You're Underweight"
- Office on Women's Health: "Underweight"