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Young woman holding an orange dumbbell while exercising outdoors on a sunny day



Maybe you’ve read about the body mass index (BMI), or you’ve heard the term thrown around in conversations about health and fitness. Before you buy into BMI, here are some facts and observations to consider, plus three alternative – and more effective – ways to assess your whole-body health.

It’s not a good indicator of health and fitness.

BMI assigns a score and category (Underweight, Healthy Weight, Overweight, Obesity) based on measures of height and weight. For many people, athletes in particular, it’s simply not an accurate measure of fitness, as the CDC notes on its website. Russell Wilson, a star quarterback in the NFL who can do things like this, measures a 30 on the BMI scale, the exact tipping point between the Overweight and Obese categories. He’s definitely neither! Five-time CrossFit Games winner Mat Fraser measures an even higher 31, placing him squarely in the Obese category, along with most every Olympic powerlifter. BMI just doesn’t work.

It was never meant to measure an individual’s health.

To find the origins of BMI, we have to go back to the early 19th century (so it’s outdated, too). Belgian mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacque Quetelet developed the formula to measure and compare the obesity of general populations – but it wasn’t designed to assess the health of an individual.

It’s used because it’s easy, not because it’s accurate.

As the CDC website says, “Because calculation requires only height and weight, BMI is an inexpensive and easy tool.” Yes, it’s simple to calculate, but that shouldn’t be enough to keep us using it. The community of physicians should take the time to understand the health of each of their patients on an individual level, using more advanced and accurate measures.

It’s a measure that punishes gaining muscle.

Training for certain sports and activities can produce a muscled physique, and since muscle is denser than fat, gaining muscle pushes BMI higher. A higher BMI doesn’t change the fact that gaining muscle can be a highly effective way of improving health and fitness.

It’s a measure that encourages unhealthy obsessions with the weight number.

Because BMI makes no distinction between weight of bones, muscle, or fat, treating all weight as bad weight, its common use has several unwarranted and negative consequences. Many people – women especially, but also men – deal with body image insecurity and can easily become obsessed with their weight, leading to unhealthy mental states, eating disorders, and negative habits like exercising as a form of punishment. BMI narrowly focuses on the weight number when we should be moving toward more holistic assessments of health.

Its categories are completely arbitrary.

The premise of a BMI score is that it places an individual on a spectrum from Underweight to Obese. The problem is that the thresholds of those categories are arbitrary and separated by single decimal points in the calculation. That means you could go from Healthy Weight to Overweight after a good meal. People, and bodies, are singular – not categories.

So if we don’t trust BMI, how can we assess our health?

Relative Fat Mass

Where BMI emphasizes the weight number, Relative Fat Mass (RFM) focuses on waist circumference, a more accurate indicator of our health. And, unlike BMI, RFM has gender-specific charts for measuring fitness.

Resting Heart Rate

Our resting heart rate is even easier to calculate than BMI – and it’s more accurate as a measure of health. Heart rates can fluctuate in response to stress and anxiety, so check first thing in the morning and several times throughout the week to get a good measure.


Putting yourself in the driver’s seat of your health empowers you to make decisions based on what you want and what you can control. Ask yourself: How do I feel? Am I able to do the things I want to do physically? How is my body changing? Tuning into our emotions about health and fitness is a better approach for our mental health than tying our confidence to a number on a scale.

Want more articles on health and fitness? Make sure to check out the Olympus Solaire blog.