This Number Predicts How Long You’ll Live

A measurement doctors rarely check can reveal more about your risk for dangerous diseases-or even early death-than your body mass index (BMI) or weight. In just 30 seconds, you can check this vital factor for yourself. 

For decades, the crucial number that has been missing from health and obesity assessment is waist circumference, but a new tool takes belly fat into account. This is important because a large waist and apple-shaped body boost risk for everything from diabetes to heart attacks to some forms of cancer, even if your weight is normal.

This brand new obesity measure, called A Body Shape Index, or ABSI, has been shown to predict premature death better than the body mass index, which simply looks at height and weight. People with high ABSI scores have double the risk of death in the next five years, a new study reports.

BMI Can Be Misleading

BMI is simply a screening tool that places people in categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) using a formula based height and weight. Although used extensively in medical practice, BMI can be misleading.

Since muscle weighs more than fat, someone who is very athletic and muscular may be classified as overweight or even obese according to BMI, even though body fat percentage could tell a different story. Similarly, a person could have a low BMI, but still have a high body fat percentage.

BMI, therefore, does not tell the complete story. 

Body Shape Is More Important than Weight

Those who carry fat around their midsection are at a higher risk of diseases than those carrying the same amount of fat in their legs and hips.

Belly fat found directly under the skin (often called subcutaneous fat) is less dangerous than visceral fat, which cushions the internal organs—and increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

And studies show that people with larger waists die sooner than those with smaller waists, even if their weight is normal. The danger zone in waist circumference is greater than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women, according to the American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

How accurately does the new ABSI formula predict lifespan?

The new obesity measure, ABSI solves these problems by combining the metrics of BMI and waist circumference. To evaluate the new formula, Dr. Nir Krakauer and his father, physician Jesse Krakauer, analyzed body measurements and death rates in more than 14,000 adults who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Service between 1999 and 2004.

The researchers found that death rates increased with higher ABSI scores, indicating that a big belly was strongly correlated with early death.. Their study, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, showed that people with the highest ABSI scores had more than twice the average risk of dying over the next five years, compared to those with the lowest.

ABSI also proved more accurate than BMI in predicting death rates with people with various body measurements. The new tool is designed to measure body “roundness” rather than overall “bigness,” the two doctors say, and can identify unhealthy body shapes.

How do I find my score?

First, you’ll need to calculate your waist circumference.

A video with detailed instructions is available. Standing in front of a mirror, loosen restrictive clothing, and wrap measuring tape right above your hipbone and around your belly button. Make sure to take a normal breath or two and exhale before you measure. The measuring tape shouldn’t be too tight, and you’ll want to make sure it’s smooth and not twisted. Then, write down the result.

To use the ABSI calculator, click here. Adjust the calculator to English units, then enter your height and waist circumference using inches, and your weight in pounds. You’ll also need to enter your age and gender.

After plugging all of your information into the calculator, it’ll spit out a bunch of numbers. The one you want to pay close attention to is the “Relative risk from ABSI.” If your relative risk is 1, you have an average rate of death for your age. Anything below 1 is a lower-than-average rate. For example, .9 would mean you are at 10% lower risk of dying. On the other hand, if your number is 1.1, you are at a 10% greater risk than average.

What’s the best way to lose belly fat?

If you have an unhealthy ABSI score, one of the best ways to slim your waist is through interval training, which has been shown in studies to be more effective than continuous, moderate intensity cardio (such as swimming, biking, or running) to trim belly fat.

This type of exercise involves short bursts of activity, followed by recovery periods. In a 2008 study, people assigned to an interval training regimen (biking for 20 minutes, with a warm-up, cool down, and 30 cycles of eight-second sprints with 12-second recoveries on an exercise bike) lost more belly fat than people who biked twice as long at a continuous pace.

Interval training also dramatically improves insulin sensitivity, reducing risk for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a 2010 review reported.

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