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How Much Should I Weigh?

A healthy weight depends on factors like age, height, gender and body frame

spinner image woman's feet on a scale surrounded by images of tape measures, hand weights, a healthy meal and a calorie counting app
Sarah Rogers (Source: Getty Images (5))

If you know you need to shed some pounds, you might wonder how much weight you should aim to lose. What is your ideal weight?

Figuring out the right weight for you can be complicated, weight loss experts say.

For decades, many health care providers have relied on body mass index, or BMI. BMI is simply a mathematical formula in which weight is adjusted for height.

But experts say BMI has pitfalls. In particular, BMI doesn’t measure how much body fat you have — a key factor in assessing your health and your risk of chronic illness.

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Nowadays, most health care providers consider BMI along with a variety of other factors to determine the best weight for you, including age, body fat percentage, waist circumference and whether you have any weight-related health conditions.

“We’re focusing more now on health beyond the scale,” says Robert Kushner, M.D., an obesity medicine specialist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We are using more of an individual approach.”

How to calculate your ideal weight using BMI

BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared. It was invented in the early 1800s and eventually used by insurance companies as a way to determine a person’s risk of death. “BMI is a very quick and dirty way to get a sense of somebody’s risk … but as the sole way to make medical decisions for a person in front of you, it can miss a lot,” says Melanie Jay, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Program on Obesity Research at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Calculate your BMI using the AARP BMI calculator.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, that a BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight and that a BMI over 30 is considered obese for all adults over age 20.

That means the ideal weight for a 5-foot-4 woman would be 108 to 145 pounds, according to the CDC. The ideal weight for a 6-foot man would be between 137 and 183 pounds.

The problems with BMI

While BMI can give you a ballpark idea of the ideal weight for your height, it doesn’t tell you how much fat you have compared to muscle and bone. That means a bodybuilder or a football player with a lot of muscle can have a BMI that inaccurately categorizes them as overweight or obese.

On the other hand, “you can have a BMI in the ‘normal’ range, but if you have prediabetes or a lot of weight gain around your belly, you still might need to take measures to improve your health,” Jay says. 

It’s especially tough to know the best BMI for older adults, who tend to lose muscle as they age, says Andrea Coviello, M.D., an endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist who is medical director of the University of North Carolina Medical Weight Program.

When you lose body mass, you don’t just lose fat, you may also lose muscle mass, Coviello says. “We worry more about the issue of muscle mass in older individuals because of the issue of frailty. What we don’t want is a decrease in physical function.” Incorporating cardio exercise and strength training into your weight loss plan can prevent loss of muscle mass.

What is a healthy weight for older adults?

Research shows that the BMI definition of obesity overestimates risk in Black people and underestimates it in individuals of Asian descent, which may lead to inappropriate treatment and could contribute to health disparities.

In addition, the BMI guidelines were originally created with data from adults ages 18 to 60. Several studies have found that a higher BMI, but not in the obese range, is healthier for adults over age 65 and is linked to a longer life.

“We think perhaps that due to having some fat in reserve, if you were to get sick and hospitalized for a long time, that could help,” Coviello says.

As a result, some experts recommend a higher BMI for older adults, Coviello says — perhaps 25 to 28. 

What to know about body fat percentage

When it comes to your long-term health and preventing premature death, your percentage of body fat matters more than the number on the scale, experts say. In fact, the very definition of obesity according to the World Health Organization is “excessive fat deposits that can harm health.”

In addition to knowing your BMI, measuring your body fat percentage can give you a better picture of your body composition and how it relates to your health

Women generally have more body fat than men. For maximum health, many experts recommend a body fat percentage under 30 percent for women and under 25 percent for men. Although some research shows that a higher percentage of body fat for women is acceptable, it may not be true for all women. Everyone should discuss their body fat goals with their health care provider. 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get an accurate measurement of body fat using at-home devices, Kushner says.

Calipers can measure the thickness of skin folds on different parts of the body, but it can be tough to do correctly if you haven’t been trained, Kushner says.

Another option is a body-fat scale, or “smart scale,” that sends an electrical current through your body to measure body fat. However, studies show they, too, can be inaccurate.

The best way to get an accurate analysis of body fat is to use specialized equipment typically found at medical clinics and hospitals. The most well-known methods include:

  • Underwater weighing, which uses a scale that submerges you in water.
  • A space-capsule-like device called a BOD POD, which measures body fat with air pressure.
  • A DEXA scan, which uses X-rays to analyze body composition.

Why your waist size is important for health

For an easier way to gauge your body fat percentage, measure your waist circumference. It’s a good measure because a growing body of research indicates that belly fat is more dangerous for your health than fat that accumulates in other parts of the body.  Abdominal fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions.

Internist Sriram Machineni, director of the Fleischer Institute Medical Weight Center at Montefiore Einstein, says he thinks waist circumference “is a much better indicator of overall health and mortality” than BMI.

Both the World Health Association and the American Heart Association recommend using waist circumference to screen for cardiometabolic risk.

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To measure your waist circumference, place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hip bones. Make sure it’s snug but not compressing your skin. Take the measurement just after you breathe out. Aim for the following goals, set by the American Heart Association:

  • Women: a waist circumference of less than 88 cm (35 inches)
  • Men: a waist circumference of less than 102 cm (40 inches)

Some studies show that the ideal waist circumference for health is lower for Asian Americans and may be higher in African Americans, but experts say more research into race and ethnic differences is needed.

Other research shows that keeping your waist size to less than half of your height is a good way to ensure long-term health.

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AARP (Source: Getty Images)

What is your ideal weight?

Yes, losing weight will help you look skinnier. But experts say the scale and your appearance shouldn’t be the only ways you measure your progress. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, even a small amount of weight loss could make a big difference in your health.

Studies show that losing just 5 percent of your body weight can improve blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure and drop HDL cholesterol. Losing a little more can help with arthritis and urinary incontinence.

In one notable clinical trial, people who were prediabetic and who lost at least 7 percent of body weight through diet and exercise reduced their incidence of diabetes by 58 percent — more than a group that was taking a medication.

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Another study shows that if you are obese and can shave off 15 percent of your body weight, you reduce your risk of early death.

When Machineni meets with a patient to set goals, he says he tries to de-emphasize goals related to a specific amount of weight loss and focus instead on losing weight to improve their quality of life and indicators of health.

“If a person has a staircase in their home and they are having difficulty walking up the stairs, that could be a functional goal,” Machineni says. “Your weight in and of itself is not as important as how it impacts your day-to-day life.”

Tips to lose weight after age 50

  • Set small goals. Setting unattainable goals can lead to frustration that causes you to give up. Start with an achievable goal, such as losing one to two pounds a week, or 5 percent of your body weight over a longer period.
  • Know your why. The more you link your weight loss to your own values, the more success you are likely to have. 
  • Try a calorie-counting app. Those who track their calories tend to be the most successful at losing weight.
  • Embrace strength training. All exercise is good, but strength training builds muscle and boosts your metabolism so you burn more calories.
  • Get plenty of protein. Try to incorporate protein into every meal. It helps build back muscle mass and helps you feel full and satisfied longer. 
  • Don’t get discouraged if you slip. Everyone has lapses. When that happens, instead of giving up, do something to get back on track.

For more tips, see 8 simple steps for losing weight and Top 20 expert tips to lose weight after 50.

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