Spartan Race

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Apparently, I'm fatter than an elephant

I somehow ended up in a discussion with some friends about an elephant autopsy that was being performed on the National Geographic Channel. Don't ask how, I stumbled into it myself and I'm not really sure. In the course of the conversation, the point was made that the elephant had very little fat around the middle -it was basically all guts. That got me thinking about something that happened a few months ago in the running doc household.
A few years ago, Mrs. Running Doc came home from Target with a scale that would also measure body fat by impedance. It's not accurate, but its at least something. My wife and I used it fairly religiously, but didn't put too much stock in anything but the weight part of it. Months later, I was flipping through a high-end electronics catalog and saw the Cadillac version of the same scale - this one had a removable handlebar that one held at a right angle to the body which allowed for a more accurate impedance measurement and also calculated things like percent muscle. It was more than I was willing pay for at the time, so I forgot about it.
Several months later, the same scale showed up on (which is a cool website, if your aren't familiar with it) for about $40 and I jumped on it. When the scale arrived, it turned out it calculated BMI, %muscle, %fat, %visceral fat, and "body age". My wife hopped on first, and was pretty pleased by all the numbers, not the least of which was her "calculated body age" of 18 years - roughly half of how old she really is!
Not to be outdone, I got on next. I'm about 6'2" and weigh around 190 lbs. According to this scale, my percent muscle is well above average, my body fat is below average, my BMI is where it supposed to be. Then it pulls up my calculated body age - 55 years! I'm 34 and so is my waist! and so is my pants sizeNot quite sure how this happened, I run and work out all the time, I'm reasonably careful about my diet, don't smoke? So why is my wife and 18 year old and I'm apparently needing reading glasses? And how does this tie into the elephant talk? Might have to do with that visceral fat measurement.
Mrs. Runningdoc tipped the visceral fat percent at less than 2%, which is obviously quite good. Mine is 7, which is apparently in the "normal" range. Why is this important? Because, as it turns out, not all belly fat is the same. You have a fat layer between your skin and your abdominal muscles - everybody knows this. It's called subcutaneous fat. You can also have fat inside your abdominal cavity, surrounding your organs, This is the so called visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat has one purpose - energy storage. In the words of one of my old professors "it will get you through the winter, but..." It doesn't do anything else (well provides some insulation, but..). Visceral fat on the other hand, is basically an endocrine organ. It pumps out all sorts of "foul humors" as my mentor, the great Jerry Olsen, used to call them, that increase your blood sugar, blood pressure, ldl, triglycerides, platelet cohesion etc, and decrease some good stuff like HDL. This translates into increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, diabetes, and slew of other stuff that you don't want if you're a person (apparently, you don't have to worry about it if you're an elephant). There even some medicines that take advantage of this fact - the diabetes drug Actos (pioglitazone) causes increased abdominal fat deposition, but its subcutaneous fat. The drug actually causes a decrease in visceral fat - you potentially gain weight, but your risk of disease goes down.
At this point, I don't quite relish telling my wife "I'm old enough to be your grandfather", so I'm going to keep working on decreasing my visceral fat. Or I'll hack the scale.

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