For women, a healthy body is a weighty issue

When it comes to women's health, we're a nation that cares, that monitors and measures, and that recommends and redoubles our efforts when better health seems elusive. So why is it that a comprehensive 50-state report card released in the past six months gave women a failing grade for being overweight?

More than 60 percent of women in this country are overweight, and more than one-third are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. And there is no shortage of associated risk with being overweight, including diabetes, high cholesterol, and endometrial and post-menopausal breast cancers. One study even found a link between post-menopausal women who were overweight and a greater loss of memory and cognition.

For Providence, maintaining a healthy weight isn't about looking good; women have enough to contend with when it comes to a culture obsessed with women's shapes and sizes. We believe maintaining a healthy weight is all about feeling good. At a healthy weight, you can avoid a host of health issues that come with extra pounds.

What is a healthy weight? Self-perception isn't an accurate gauge of a healthy weight. A recent study reported that nearly 40 percent of people with a body mass index indicating that they were overweight didn't think they were overweight - unless they were told by their health care provider. Add to that the fact that as a society, we're getting heavier. So while you may have put on some pounds in the past several years, your friends and family may have, too - in that scenario, no one seems too heavy.

The CDC can help you calculate your BMI. A BMI greater than 25 typically indicates that you are overweight; a BMI greater than 30 indicates that you are obese. Your waistline measurement also can help determine whether or not you're overweight. According to the CDC, you have a greater risk of developing obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease if your waist circumference measures more than 35 inches for women (or 40 inches for men).

Is weight gain contagious? The American Journal of Public Health recently reported that women in the same social circles were more likely to share being overweight or obese due to similar social habits, such as eating out or engaging in more sedentary activities. Researchers found that the women in the study were 2.4 times more likely to be obese if they had friends who were obese.

Is your job bad for your bottom line? It may not seem like rocket science, but your workplace is probably not helping you win the battle of the bulge. The country has seen a major shift throughout the past five decades from a more active workforce to one that is largely desk-bound. In 1960, roughly half of the workforce was active in the work environment, according to a new study out last month in the online journal, PLoS One. Today, only one in five people has a job that requires being physically active. The reduction in job-related calorie-burning - more than 100 calories per day that the majority of us are no longer expending - is related to many factors, among them our increasing reliance on email and the Internet to research and communicate. To rekindle the calorie burn, experts suggest getting up from your desk to talk with a coworker instead of calling or emailing; taking frequent short walks around your building or block; taking the stairs instead of the elevator; and parking at a distance from where you work.

A heavy heart? Sitting for too long is not only bad for your weight, it's also hard on your heart and overall health, according to the latest research. You may be more prone to heart disease, diabetes and other weight-related conditions, as well as depression, if you sit for too long, without interruption. Women are believed to be at greater risk, as we tend to engage in fewer sports and, in general, are more sedentary on the job than our male counterparts. Even if you walk after dinner, hit the gym four times each week or run regularly every morning before work, it may not be enough to compensate for sitting for hours at a stretch in your office, which slows your metabolism. Your muscles, which crave movement, are immobile, and your circulation slows. At rest, your body uses less sugar for fuel, and a slower blood flow means less serotonin circulating throughout your body. Sitting for too long and too often may take years off your life.

What can you do? In addition to your weekly exercise regimen, it's crucial to get up and move during your work day. Just standing burns significantly more calories than sitting. Experts recommend standing every half hour, stretching often, and walking and talking with colleagues instead of chatting by email or phone. At home, fold laundry, chase your kids from room to room, or watch TV while on a stationary bicycle or treadmill. Consider shopping at the mall instead of online, or pacing instead of sitting while talking on the telephone. The more incidental physical exercise - or non-formal exercise movement - you can rack up, the better off you'll be.

Add more, subtract less? One thing about diets - depriving yourself rarely works. Some say adding foods to your daily menu can help more than hinder, if you choose thoughtfully. At the top of the list: more fruits and vegetables. Incorporating foods that are rich in vitamins and that offer proven health benefits can help improve your eating habits. Coupled with incidental physical activity and a regular exercise regimen, these types of dietary changes can add up to bigger results over time.

For more information on maintaining a healthy weight, visit our Health Balance® weight management page.