Don't rely solely on the bathroom scale to measure the success of your walking program -- also look at your body mass index (BMI). Remember, it's fat, not weight, that you really want to lose. Fat is less dense than muscle and it weighs less per unit volume, so it's actually possible to be overfat (with too high a proportion of body fat) without being overweight.
The body fat of a healthy male should range from 10 to 18 percent of the total body weight; for a woman, 18 to 25 percent body fat is considered healthy. Body fat percentages above these ranges typically indicate overweight and, beyond a certain point, obesity. Most experts agree that men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese.
So how do you know what percentage of body fat you're carrying around and how much you should lose to get back to a healthier range? Some weight-loss centers, clinics, and fitness clubs now offer body-fat testing using underwater weighing that fat is more buoyant than lean tissue) or electrical impedance (based on the principle that fat contains much less water than lean tissue, and water conducts electricity).
But body-fat testing need not be expensive to be precise. An older but reliable method is using skinfold calipers (fat pinchers), a device your doctor may use.
There is also a somewhat less precise but very useful calculation that these days is most frequently used to assess body fat levels and the potential health risks associated with them. It's called the body mass index, or BMI, and it does a better job than the number on the scale alone because it accounts for your level of body fat in assessing whether your weight falls into a range that's optimal for health.
To calculate your BMI:
- First thing in the morning, weigh yourself naked.
- Measure your height in inches.
- Using a calculator, multiply your weight in pounds by 700.
- Divide the result from step 3 by your height in inches.
- Divide the result from step 4 by your height in inches again. The result is your BMI.
A BMI between 19 and 24.9 is considered to be in the healthy range (for both men and women), the range associated with the least risk of heart disease. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates that you are overweight and should start making changes to prevent additional weight gain and lose some pounds. If your BMI is more than 30, you are obese and have a much higher risk of serious illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
If you plan to use a walking program to help lose excess body fat, you can simply recalculate your BMI as your weight changes to gauge your progress.
Of course, aside from these various scientific measures, you can also get a pretty good idea of your progress in the war against fat by merely looking in the mirror -- and trying on your clothes. This makes more sense than weighing yourself too often (once a week is plenty) or getting too obsessed with what the bathroom scale has to say.
In fact, you'll love to take a look at yourself in the mirror after adhering to a walking program. Walking tones your body by building muscle. Get the details in the next section.
To learn more about walking, see: