15 Ways To Measure Your Health
I've been beating myself up over my weight lately. I'm only 2.5 kilograms over what I feel my 'ideal' weight is (where I feel lean but strong) but damn, it's like I'm carrying a layer of Jell-O around my stomach. A trip to China (hello noodles), Christmas and last month's birthday celebrations have been a series of wonderful but unfortunate events for my waistline. I'm hoping (okay, praying) that the weight gain is actually muscle thanks to hill running, heavier weights and increased protein intake. I plan to book in for my annual body composition assessment in coming weeks, but in the interim I've been reflecting on other ways to measure my health.
For example, I can recall a time when I was a few kilograms lighter but I was sleep deprived, my skin was inflamed and my nails were constantly breaking. I also remember a time when I had a smaller build but I was injured, almost anaemic and my emotions were all over the place. A friend of mine has bemoaned her apparent recent weight gain but her energy levels and vitality are the best I've seen in years. Her face no longer looks drained.
Below are 15 ways to measure your health, both inside and outside. I'm not saying to keep a diary of each of them, but by scanning through old photos or reflecting on recent months you may remember a time you felt your strongest, prepped meals brimming with fresh produce or simply slept through the night. Regardless, this list may just make you realise you're doing better health-wise now than you think.
I'm putting this at the top of the list to get it out the way. Weight is a big part of your health, although it's by no means everything. Ideal weight ranges differ based on your gender, ethnicity and stage of life. However, occasionally standing on the scales (or trying on those old jeans or a particular dress) can indicate whether you're losing, gaining or maintaining weight. Increasing your muscle mass will lead to weight gain (it's heavier than fat), as will water retention (hello, flying) and some medications. Your weight is just one measure of health, but it's an easy one to track.
A better indication than weight perhaps, but still not flawless, is your waistline. Measuring your waist (and wrists if you're really keen) is an effortless way to check your risk of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. I use the tape measure from my sewing kit to keep an eye on my waistline (currently 67 centimetres/ 26 inches). The Australian government guidelines are:
- For men, have a waistline below 94cm (37 inches)
- For women, below 80cm (31.5 inches)
3. Blood pressure/cholesterol/blood glucose
Unless you or a relative is a nurse, it's unlikely you can assess these in your own home. However you can head to a pharmacy or local doctor to get them tested! Similar to your waist measurements, these tests help identify your risk of developing certain diseases. I'm able to get a free test each year through my private health insurance, but some work places also offer free testing. Ideally, your assessor will make recommendations (such as diet or lifestyle changes) based on your results if needed.
A sign that I'm having a hectic week? I'm eating baked beans on toast, buying sushi and drinking Diet Coke. When do I feel at my best? Giant salads, stir-fries, fresh fruit and wholesome dinners brimming with vegetables. Of course, diet is linked to time - getting to a grocery store then also preparation - but setting aside an hour each week to roast some vegetables or make a curry will save hours during the week! If I'm having two serves of fruit, a giant plate of vegetables and avoid processed foods each day, I'm happy.
5. In the bathroom
If you're regularly running to the bathroom or feeling backed up - it's not a great sign for health. There are plenty of charts on the Internet indicating what your toilet business should look like (and checking the colour of your urine will show how hydrated you are). Normal will differ from person to person, but if your bathroom habits in line with medical guidelines - give yourself a healthy high five!
I'm no dermatologist or beautician - but my skin will tell you whether I'm refreshed, sleep deprived or eating too many store granola bars. I can recall a particularly stressful time in my life where I was a few kilograms lighter than now, but my face was inflamed and infected. It took a lot of courage to walk five minutes down the road without make-up to visit a beautician, who was shocked when she saw me (I haven't gone back). When I was seriously overweight, I had acne as well. My skin isn't flawless now but reducing stress, eating of a variety of fresh foods and having flaxseed each day have done a lot more than that once-off facial.
In recent months, I've noticed my nails are much stronger than they used to be. They used to flake and break almost daily but the only change I can think of is that I'm actively eating more protein and trying to reduce stress. I suspect my calorie restriction (which resulted in successful weight loss) had a side-effect of inadequate nutrient which manifested in poor skin and nails. You could probably include hair in this category too - is it strong and shiny or dull and breaking? My hairdresser has noticed an improvement in my hair too.
If you've ever been seriously ill or injured, you probably didn't care about how your jeans were fitting. You wanted to recover, be pain-free, regain strength and mobility. On a lesser note, you may have had times where you were just plagued by cold, flu and infections or generally felt rundown. But perhaps a virus went through your office and you escaped it? Or you've been injury free for 12 months! Immunity and resilience are a sure sign your health's on track.
How much sleep are you getting and how good is it? My New Years' resolution in 2017 was to get seven hours, seven days a week. It didn't always happen (and sorry to any parents reading this) but I try to go to bed at least seven hours before my alarm. A good nights' sleep changes everything and I've invested in good quality sheets, duvets and pillows to try make that happen. I've also promised myself 'don't fight the tired' - if my eyelids are drooping, abandon the task and go to bed. Yes, that's why this blog post is late and there are piles of laundry strewn across my apartment.
Closely linked to sleep, but worthy of its own category. Do you feel charged up or lethargic? Alert or hazy? Another measure: how often do you grab chocolate at 3pm? Again, parents and shift workers are likely to have tough days. The time I crawled back into bed after a Spin class (sweaty shorts and all) and slept for two hours or nearly concussed myself on my office keyboard are not good indicators. But I feel most energised when I'm fuelled by adequate sleep, good nutrition and exercise.
If you lift weights, strength is an easy measure of health to track. I'm definitely lifting the heaviest weights of my life (although nothing compared to CrossFitters). Maybe you're doing push ups on your toes, lifting groceries more easily or carrying a child for longer? Can you squeeze harder or lift higher in Pilates? If you're in any way stronger than you used to be, congratulate yourself!
For runners and cyclists, endurance is another aspect of health that's easy to track. I'm running 10K weekly post-injury and am increasing the intensity by including more inclines. You may be a regular walker and noticed you're less puffed or walking for longer than when you first started. Your dance class might leave you less exerted, or you've doubled your treadmill time. Your ability to do an activity has improved, and therefore so has your health!
This is perhaps my most valued measure of health. One of the main reasons I hit the gym is to future-proof my body against ageing. I want not just strength and endurance now, but I want to be agile and mobile in my old age. I did yoga yesterday for the first time in two weeks and was shocked when I attempted a deep Hindi squat - my hips refused to lower or loosen at all. Whether you're a yogi, do Tai Chi or just occasionally stretch, are you gliding or grimacing?
I could dedicate an entire post or even a blog to stress, but I'm not qualified or overly passionate on the topic. We've all had times in our lives where we're waking during the night, running on adrenaline or feel sick to the core. It could be a specific problem - money, relationships or health - or sometimes it's simply a build up of being busy. No task is stressful on its own, but the quantity can seem overwhelming. My solution is having a 'GSD' (get sh*t done) day, where I power through every essential or irritating errand on my to-do list. Otherwise, I generally try to reduce stress by making time for things that I know calm me - getting my nails done, baking, spraying a scent or even just breathing while a cup of tea brews. There will be calm and chaotic flows in life - but you're no doubt in better health during the more restorative times.
This is related to stress, but I think it's worthy of its own category. You may not be stressed, but how often do you feel peaceful or joyous? Are you more confident, less anxious or feeling better connected to people or communities around you? Can you recall the last time your face hurt from laughing so hard? Are you proud of yourself? Sure, I want those extra kilos to leave my body. But I haven't seen a counsellor for two years, my skin is no longer a horror movie and I hiked a mountain last year with the man I love. That sounds pretty healthy to me, although I'm still going to have my annual health check - because while I know my body, I don't have a medical degree. It's all about balance!
QUESTION: How do you measure your health?