Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Can You Be Fat & Fit?


Take Xina Sy's body weight and divide it twice by her height in inches. Then, multiply that number by 703. Using this formula, you'll find that her "body mass index," or BMI, is somewhere around 32.
The National Institutes of Health indicates that adults who have a BMI of 25 or more are at risk for premature death, a consequence of their surplus weight.
So, considering Sy's calculated BMI, you could say she's a hefty gal, indeed. But Sy has another mathematical theory for you: Contrary to popular belief, "hefty" does not automatically equal "unhealthy."
"I'm a big girl," said Sy. "I have a big presence. Big is beautiful, sexy and bold!" The facts are cliché now -- America is officially fat (and, no, that's not with a "ph"). But here's the skinny anyway:
Recent studies have shown that American males and females of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds are more obese than ever. And those tens of millions of obese American adults, if they want to live longer, had better lose that weight before they turn 35, according to a study published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dutch researchers analyzed thousands of vital statistics collected from Massachusetts volunteers from 1948 to 1990. They found that people who are overweight when they hit their mid-30s have a greater risk of dying prematurely than do normal-weight people.
Also, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 15 percent of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 years are overweight and inactive. Overweight and obese people are at a much higher risk for developing diabetes or hypertension, or having a heart attack or stroke.
"Most striking is the explosion of diabetes," said Dr. James R. Gavin III, president of Morehouse School of Medicine.
But even though being overweight and obese is becoming "epidemic," according to the CDC, there is a growing scientific interest in finding out whether exercise and eating well might reduce some of the dangers touted by the studies.
For example, with "regular physical activity like simply walking for 150 minutes a week, and losing a relatively modest amount of weight -- 10 to 15 pounds -- a 200-pound person can reduce his risk of developing diabetes by 60 percent," Gavin said.
Sy -- an Atlanta fitness expert -- also believes that regular exercise might dispel much of the obesity-equals-sickness equation.
"I'm not selling a quick fix for losing weight overnight," she said. "I'm talking about a lifestyle change, a realistic, healthy alternative for a real-life situation."
Sy, mother of three girls ages 19-25, fell into the beauty trap at a young age. She spent years trying to become the woman she never could -- a size 2 voluptu-waif with those laughable 38-22-36 measurements that only the likes of Barbie could boast.
"Name the diet, I was on it at some point or another," Sy said. Her love affair with food was motivational; it calmed her self-doubt while simultaneously pumping her up to a morbidly obese 300 pounds. Sy would occasionally find a program that helped her shed some of the weight, but in time the pounds would find their way back.
"Finally," Sy said, "I decided to heck with all the diets and exercise machines. I'm going to start doing what feels right and realistic to me."
She became certified as an aerobics instructor and started Women's Fitness Plus, an exercise program catering to full-figured women. Sy, now a size 16, worked particularly with large women, helping them build their bodies and spirits.
"These women are an underserved market," she said. "My main mission was to help them feel good about themselves, not just to lose weight."
College Park resident Lynda Bright lost 155 pounds with Sy's help. After cozying up to obesity for, like, forever, the 6-foot-tall mother of five decided to give health a chance. Today, she's reaping the rewards.
"I've been invited to do a marathon for the American Stroke Association," she beamed. "Xina helped me to get here."
Charlotte Moore is a freelance writer & contributor to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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