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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do you think her bone density is at a safe level, given that she is currently running and cycling in an attempt to lose weight?

Readers of Walking Magazine strike me as being intensely interested in health.  Especially as it relates to getting older.

As we get older we typically lose muscle, lose bone, dry out while gaining fat and weight.  Depressing as this might be, much of this decline is as much to do with controllable factors as it is to do with true "Ageing".  I am talking about controllable factors such as nutritional imbalances, medication side effects and lack of exercise (and sometimes too much exercise!).

We can measure our rate of physical decline - and its reversal - by the use of Bioelectrical Impedence Analysis (BIA) technology which is now available, embedded in bathroom weighing scales.  I have now done thousands of assessments of body composition (Weight, muscle, fat, water and bone) using this technology.  I sell these machines, the Salter 9106, for $99.89 delivered within NZ so that my clients can self-monitor their progress to health and fitness.  many people have these machines sitting idly in their bathrooms.  Its time to put them to good use!

The following is a letter from a Walking Magazine reader who has some questions about BIA which I want to share with other readers (Name withheld and personal identifying information has been removed).

"Hi Gary,

I lent my BIA scales to XXXX who's trying to lose weight and was somewhat alarmed at her bone reading of 1.9 kg. I've just read over your article and see that she falls within the 'normal' range, however I still feel that this number is too low. Here are her other stats:
Salter 9106 BIA Scales
  • age: 42, 
  • height: 165 cm, 
  • weight: 87.4 kg, 
  • fat: 39.7 %, 
  •  bone: 1.9 kg, 
  • water: 44.5 %, 
  • muscle: 34.7 %. 
She has a history of competitive racing (marathons and triathlons).....
Do you think her bone density is at a safe level, given that she is currently running and cycling in an attempt to lose weight?

Kind regards."
BIA (Bio Impedance Analysis) works by passing a weak current through the body.  With the help of some nifty technology that senses the way the current is "impeded" by water, bone and fat, and with the help some smart mathematical algorithms, BIA weighing scales can work out quite accurately the makeup of a person's body.

The BIA scales being used, in this case, are the Salter 9106 model which I have found to be simple to use, affordable and consistently accurate for home use.  Here are two key points to bear in mind when using BIA scales for monitoring body composition:

1 Use Athlete Mode only

There are two modes: "Athlete" and "Sedentary".  Use "Athlete Mode" only even if the person is currently sedentary: We are all athletes in waiting!  The reason for using one mode only is because the machine makes some arbitrary changes between the two and confusion can be caused if one switches from one mode to the other.

2 Repeat Measure on the same day of week at the same time of day

One reading, on its own, can be misleading.  Repeat the weigh-in on a weekly basis at the same time of the day wearing minimum clothing each time and record the readings.  This helps you to detect and discard any outliers and enables you to see trends in body composition changes, such as the gradual loss of fat as a percentage of total weight.

Now, some observations about your friend's body composition

(I am assuming that the scales have been set in "Athlete" mode.)
  1. Body Fat Percent: At 39% she is carrying several excess kilograms.  A healthy body less percent for a female is about 25%.  A very fit woman may be as low as 15% fat. Less than 15% and the woman must take great care with her nutrition to ensure she remains in good health.
  2. Bone Mass: The BIA measure of bone is of estimated mass in kilograms: Not bone density.  In my experience, an estimated bone mass of 1.9 Kg is fine and does not in any way represent increased risk of fracture.  As an aside, bone mass and bone density are not accurate predictors of fracture risk (Take note that this statement applies, as well, to X-ray densitometry such as the Dexa-Scan).  Bone is living tissue, not inanimate chalk.  The key to strong bones is partly to do with how much bone one has in relation to body weight; but a much greater factors are how well nourished the body is to fuel the constant processes of bone remodeling that respond unceasingly to the physical stresses upon the body and the presence of drugs such as asthma steroid medication and bisphosphonates which can thin and weaken bones.  Better predictors of fracture risk include: Poor balance, being obese, poor leg muscle strength and the use of prescription drugs such as for blood pressure.
  3. How to use BIA scales to monitor health: As a person's health improves, there is a percent increase in water and muscle, while there will be a decrease in fat percent.  Bone will increase by 1-200 grams; but over a long time - months and years - not weeks.  It is possible to improve these measures regardless of age.  In fact, I find that some of the most dramatic improvements happen in people well past 60 years.  It is best to take readings weekly as outlined earlier and chart the results using a computer programme such as Excel.


As a general rule: The slower and the more steady the rate of improvement in measures of body composition, the more likely those gains will be lasting, rather than being transitory!


How can she improve her body composition?

Lose weight - Then run
 In my opinion, running when carrying several excess kilograms of fat is simply not enjoyable. and carries with it a high level of risk of stress injury.  Rather than running, your friend would be better off doing a mix of brisk walking, cycling and other activities for the upper body such as swimming. 

What she eats is very important
I have found that weight loss through calorie restriction usually ends in disappointment with any lost weight quickly regained.  Lasting fat loss is best achieved by a diet that is not unduly calorie restrictive and which is rich in protein, fats (including animal fats such as butter), plenty of vegetables (70% of them cooked, the rest raw), while being relatively low in sugars and carbohydrates, including most fruits.  The best time to eat fruit and carbohydrates when trying to lose fat is before and after exercise.  Processed foods that claim to be 99% fat free are best avoided because they are likely to be rich sources of hidden carbohydrates which, when in excess, are converted into fat by the liver.

Generally, the more that one eats in the way of quality food, the more one can exercise and the more energy one burns even while at rest.  The result is a gradual loss of excess fat, an increase in muscle, bone and water and one feels great!

Calorie restriction diets tend to fail miserably
Calorie restriction, such as low fat diets, tend to shut down the metabolism while at rest and tend to make exercise an unpleasant effort.  Generally, one must compensate for the lack of available energy by backing off on the intensity and volume of exercise.  People on calorie restriction diets tend to feel very tired throughout the day.  Any weight loss may include loss of muscle and even bone, as well as some fat - Not good!  Hence, calorie restriction weight loss programmes tend to have a very poor track record.

Looking at the body composition results, I wonder if your friend is suffering from "burnout"?

Have you ever wondered what happens to "retired" marathon runners and triathletes?

These athletes seldom retire: Most grind to a painful and very tired halt!  Like dying elephants, they quietly leave the herd, disappearing into the thick undergrowth, never to be seen again.  The attention of the masses, meanwhile, is on the next up and coming youthful champion.

Burnout is a  modern epidemic constituting at least 80% of my business and most common in older active people.  Other than feeling constantly tired and constantly getting sick there are physical signs of burnout that include fat gain, loss of muscle and bone and suffering one niggling injury after another.

If this appears to be the case with your friend, it would be advisable to consult a natural health practitioner for advice about what to do while keeping the exercise at a relatively low intensity for the time being.

If you do purchase a Salter 9106 BIA scale off me, then email ( your readings and questions and I will give some advice and guidance.


About this website 
The advice in these articles is given freely without promise or obligation. Its all about giving you and your family the tools and information to take control of your health and fitness.
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