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FITNESS: Here’s the skinny on fat

There are many misunderstandings when it comes to fat
People who some might consider overweight are, in fact, very fit and healthy, and some lean people can be struggling with diabetes, hypertension and perhaps asthma, so body shape alone does not directly determine your health state. (File - Metro-Creative)

Ron Cain | Contributed

Do you need girth control?

Fat is something we all have in common. We all have it – it’s essential for life.

Things have changed dramatically in my lifetime. Growing up in the 1960s, I can’t remember very many kids at school who had a weight issue. Today obesity in school-age children is an epidemic.

It’s not that we didn’t get enough food. I think more people were getting home-cooked food than they are today with the prevalence of fast food outlets and drive-through lifestyles.

I remember walking four kilometres from school – yes, that’s correct walking, even in the dead of winter – getting home half-frozen and opening the kitchen door to the smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven.

We would cut a slice about two inches think, slather it with homemade jam, then head back out for another hour of delivering newspapers six days a week.

My point is that there was a very high level of activity, not from working out but just from getting around. Many families had one car, so if you wanted to get somewhere, you got on your bike and moved your butt down the road.

Things started to change in the 1980s with video games, two and even three-car families, fast food joints popping up everywhere and then came the debut of the home computer.

By the 1990s, the digital age had made a roaring debut, and the cocooned lifestyle was taking over. Wally, the Beaver and June were officially gone from the scene. Pop-Tarts replaced homemade bread, you didn’t have to get off the couch to change channels, and there was this thing called the internet that gradually emerged to prominence – changing society forever in ways never anticipated.

So what is the skinny on fat? There are many misunderstandings.

No. 1: Looking at a height and weight chart gives an accurate indication of your ideal weight – False. If that were true, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at 6-foot-1 and 230 lbs. in his prime, would have been considered obese. These charts don’t work for thick-framed people packing a lot of muscle.

No. 2: It’s easy to measure your body fat percentage – False. There are several methods, and all require training and interpretation. Skinfold measurements have long been considered a good indicator of fat. Still, their primary value is not to predict actual percentages but to be used every few months on the same person to track changes in body fat from lifestyle changes.

No. 3: If you are fatter, you are less healthy – False. Lots of people who some might consider overweight are, in fact, very fit and healthy, and some lean people can be struggling with diabetes, hypertension and perhaps asthma, so body shape alone does not directly determine your health state.

#4: If you have fat around the waist, you get rid of it by working the core – False. When we lose fat, we don’t spot reduce it comes off from the entire body and not just the area of concern, so instead of doing 20 minutes of sit-ups, people are better of with 20 minutes of cardio and a balanced full-body workout.

Determining your healthy weight is best done by discussing with your doctor and or working with a trainer. I gave up testing for body fat years ago and now take measurements to calculate body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio. That information, along with a discussion about the person’s history, can supply enough information to make a reasonable recommendation.

If a person changes their lifestyle and introduces a lot more exercise, they may not see that magic weight number they have in mind because their exercise program will cause them to gain lean muscle - which is much denser than fat. For that reason, it’s a good idea to focus on the tale of the tape, not your weight. I weigh myself only three or four times a year and don’t get too concerned about it unless my pants don’t fit.

As we get older, we need to be very aware of trying not to go out every few years and get new, more oversized clothes. Higher blood pressure, increased risk for cancer, fatty liver syndrome, and worn-out hips and knees are all potential consequences of not practising girth control.

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Ron Cain is the owner of Sooke Mobile Personal Training. Email him at or find him on Facebook at Sooke Personal Training.

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