How Much Should You Weigh?

By Alisa Bowman |

Whether you think you carry too many extra pounds — or too few of them — here’s what you should know about finding a healthy weight for you.

Older woman enjoying a run for a story on how much should I weigh

If you dislike the number you see on the scale, you’ll likely find the next sentence reassuring. Unlike your blood pressure or blood sugar levels, your weight reveals little about your overall health, according to experts.

“People are so addicted to the scale,” says Kimberly Gomer, R.D. She’s a registered dietitian in Miami who specializes in nutrition counseling for people 50 and older. “They don’t realize that they are chasing a false god.”

The number on the scale can be misleading, especially as you get older, says Gomer. You might notice your weight drop after a bout with the flu or food poisoning. However, a lot of those lost pounds come from water and muscle tissue, not the body and belly fat you’d really like to get rid of.

Losing extra water isn’t usually problematic, but losing muscle is. In addition to helping you complete your daily activities, muscle tissue powers your metabolism. When you lose too much of it, your risk rises for health problems like insulin resistance, which is linked to prediabetes, according to Sanjay Bhojraj, M.D. He is an interventional cardiologist who runs Well12.Health — a metabolic health program.

Your weight can also climb for healthy reasons, like when you add a pound or two of muscle because of the resistance training you’re doing at the gym, says Dr. Bhojraj.

That’s why he and other experts say you should pay attention to one or more of the following health indicators, instead of the scale. Here are three ways to gauge if your body weight is in a healthy zone.

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1. Body Mass Index (BMI)

Your BMI is a mathematical calculation that estimates the health of your bodyweight based on the number on the scale and your height. No need to do the math yourself in the age of the internet either: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a free BMI calculator that does all the work for you.

Your BMI can give you a quick snapshot of your overall health, and it’s based on years of research. One recent study reported that people with a higher body mass index are more likely to develop several potentially fatal health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, than those whose numbers are in a lower zone.

According to the CDC, this is what your BMI numbers mean:

  • < 18.5 = Underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9 = Healthy weight
  • 24.9 – 29.9 = Overweight
  • 29.9 – 30+ = Obese

The downsides of BMI. While this is a popular measure of healthy body weight, BMI definitely has its flaws. The score can sometimes overestimate or underestimate someone’s health, especially in people over 60.

If you are muscular, your BMI may put you in the overweight range, even though you’re likely quite healthy, says Dr. Bhojraj. Similarly, if you lack muscle or bone mass — a more common occurrence in older adults — your BMI might predict good health, even though your body fat percentage would say otherwise, he says.

Another issue is that a number that is considered “overweight” for younger people may promote better health for older people, says Sarah Hormachea, R.D.N. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Denver.

One study found that BMIs of more than 27.5 are associated with more health risks in people under 60 but fewer health risks for people over 60. The researchers theorize that this could be caused by osteopenia and osteoporosis. Those conditions can make you grow shorter, driving up someone’s BMI without increasing their levels of body fat.

Excess body fat may also help older people better survive malnutrition and extreme weight loss due to illness, tooth loss, or hospitalization.

Recommended reading: Should You Care About Your Body Mass Index?

2. Body Composition

Unlike BMI, body composition looks at the percentage of fat mass compared to lean mass, giving you a more accurate picture of your overall health, says Dr. Bhojraj.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, people 60 or older ideally want to keep body fat below 26% for men and 31% for women.

The obstacles with body composition. Though a more accurate predictor of overall health than BMI, body composition also has some drawbacks. Leading the list: The most high-tech and accurate methods for measuring body fat tend to be prohibitively expensive for most people.

These include:

  • DXA scans to measure bone density
  • The Bod Pod, which is a device that measures your weight and volume
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI

You can buy affordable body fat scales for as little as $20. These scales are less accurate than the other expensive options, but they can give you a reasonable idea of your body composition, says Dr. Bhojraj.

Rather than getting stuck on a specific fat percentage, Dr. Bhojraj recommends looking at your individual overall data trends, especially regarding muscle mass. If your smart scale shows you that your muscle mass continually declines from one week to the next, you should mention it to your doctor.

3. Waist Circumference

Body composition measurements don’t reveal where you store your fat, and that’s why waist circumference is another important way to check in on how healthy your weight is. Deep belly fat, which is also known as visceral fat, is more harmful to your health than fat stored elsewhere in the body.

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Measuring your waist circumference can help you determine if you have too much of the wrong type of fat. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that waist circumference may predict poor health and mortality more accurately than BMI does.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men means you have a higher risk for heart disease and type two diabetes.

Recommended reading: How to Know if You Have Too Much Belly Fat

There Is No Perfect Way to Measure Your Weight

As you may have gathered, all the methods for figuring out the health implications of body size come with a unique set of pros and cons.

“There are all sorts of ways of measuring excess body fat, but none are 100% accurate,” says David Cutler, M.D. He is a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Physician Partners in Santa Monica, California.

He and others interviewed suggest bringing up any weight concerns with your doctor. They will review your personal health history and goals to determine what a healthy weight looks like for you. Together, you can come up with a plan to reach—and keep—that number.

Recommended reading: 5 Steps to Beat Age-Related Muscle Loss
7 Common Weight Loss Mistakes People Over 60 Make
Weight loss basics for Older Adults
How to Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

See our sources:
Body mass index: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
BMI and mortality risk: PLOS One
BMI and age differences: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Body composition: American College of Sports Medicine
Belly fat and heart disease: American Heart Association
Waist-hip ratio v. BMI: JAMA
Waist circumference: National Institutes of Health

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