Take it from a 51-year-old — if you want to be healthy and feel young, there is nothing you can do that is more important than staying lean. Yes, I know. You’re thinking that I’m so superficial. That there are many more important things in life than the size of your waistline. That’s how I used to think too. But now I know better. Staying lean makes you look better, but it does a lot more than that. It …

* reduces your risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer

* makes it less likely that you will suffer from lower-back pain

* reduces the aches and pains in your knees and ankles

* makes you better at sex

* gives you more energy

* improves your personal satisfaction

I asked Dr. Al Sears M.D., a widely regarded expert in the field of nutritional therapy, for his input on the subject. This is what he said: “I perform a standard physical exam. Then I put away my stethoscope and pull out the skin calipers. All new patients enrolling in one of our health-improvement programs have their body-fat composition measured. This can embarrass some patients. They think of it as a personal issue. But I make it as clear as I can that leanness is a health issue — and a big one.

“Less than 20% of my new patients are optimally lean. 50% of my patients with high blood pressure, 70% with high cholesterol, and 80% with adult diabetes are obese. Nearly all of these patients have been able to stop their medications when they become lean. “Many medical conditions not traditionally thought to be related to weight (such as asthma, ulcers, arthritis, and menopausal and prostate problems) resolve when patients optimize their body-fat composition.

I still can’t believe other doctors don’t even measure it. I tell my patients that getting lean and staying that way is the best health insurance policy they can have.” Studies show that lean people not only have fewer health problems (and, of course, better self-esteem) but also do better in the workplace.

They are more likely to:

* be hired after an interview

* be promoted

* make CEO

* make more money than their fatter counterparts

And, yes, lean people look much better in clothes. OK, I admit it. I’m irredeemably shallow. But so are you … deep down inside. Tell the truth. Sometime soon, I’ll tell you the ETR formula for staying thin — and maybe we’ll form some kind of Shallow ETR Support Group to help one another along. But right now, you should have your body fat measured. (Just because you don’t weigh a lot doesn’t mean you are lean.) You can have this done at most health clubs.

Or you can go to an exercise-equipment store, buy a kit, and do it yourself. For men, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) defines “lean” as having a body-fat composition of less than 18%; for women, less than 25%. There is a lower limit to healthy body fat. The American Council on Exercise calls this lower limit “essential fat.” Dr. Sears advises no lower than 10% for a woman and no lower than 6% for a man. Have your body fat measured this week. We’ll talk later.

[Dr. Al Sears is Board Certified in Anti-Aging Medicine. He specializes in natural health improvement programs. His body transformation program has helped hundreds of people achieve and maintain a lean body. For more information about this program or to find out more about Dr. Sears’ Health & Wellness Center, please email alsearsmd@aol.com or call 561-784-7852 and ask for Dr. Sears’ Research Assistant, Genevieve. Please be sure to mention to Genevieve that you are an Early to Rise subscriber.]