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Measuring Your Health Apart from Weight Loss

Around this time of year, the goal that many of us set for ourselves is to lose weight. Traditionally, it’s one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, but even if you’re reading this article in the middle of summer, you likely want to lose some weight and feel healthier. What if we told you that those two desires don’t go hand-in-hand?

Recently, we discussed how weight loss actually isn’t an excellent guide to how healthy you are and focusing on it can both sabotage your health goals and make you unhealthy. The problem is that for many people, weight loss is often used as a synonym for being healthier when that isn’t really the case. So, if you’re trying to be healthier this year, how can you tell if you’re making progress without relying on the scale?

Fitness and Personal Improvement

Rather than straight weight loss, your fitness can be effective at helping you gauge how healthy you are or are becoming. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon to show you’re healthy. Fitness goals can shift and change as we age depending on your current health circumstances, so that needs to be taken into account when you’re trying to craft a goal for yourself. A good starting point is to see if you’re able to accomplish the baseline physical activity goals set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC):

3 to 5 years (Preschool Aged) 6 to 17 years (Children and Adolescents) 18 to 64 years (Adults) 65 years and Older (Seniors) Adults with Chronic Conditions and Disabilities Pregnant and Postpartum Women
  • Physical activity and active play every day, throughout the day.
  • 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, at least three days a week.
  • Varied types of physical activity, including muscle strengthening exercise like pushups or climbing and bone strengthening activities such as gymnastics or jumping rope.
  • 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity exercise
  • At least two days each week of muscle strengthening exercise
  • Exercises that improve balance
  • 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity exercise
  • At least two days each week of muscle strengthening exercise
  • 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity exercise
  • At least two days each week of muscle strengthening exercise
  • 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity exercise

That may be a good place to start, but you should make your fitness goal more specific to what you’re able to do. Even if you find yourself unable to currently match the CDC’s recommendations, any exercise is better than none. What’ll ultimately be important is that you’re seeing improvement. A great way to do this is to find a metric you want to gauge your fitness on — working with your doctor is a plus here. Let’s say you want to improve your speed. On your first run, see how fast you can run a mile. After that, set a specific day (and only on that day) where you test your speed to see if you’re getting quicker. The same can be done for other metrics, like endurance. Whether you’re exercising for a specific amount of time that increases each week or running a loop that gets larger and larger as you train, endurance can be a helpful attribute to work on, especially as you age.

Health Signs with Your Doctor

The next way to track your health is a bit tougher to do at home, but it’s to work with your doctor to monitor a few key health signifiers. For many people, vital health signs will entail a combination of blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, or respiration rate. Your doctor may include others based on your personal health or that of your family history. A great time to talk to your doctor about these health signs is your annual checkup or wellness visit, to get a base level understanding of what your health metrics should look like. From here, your doctor may give you advice on ways to improve any numbers they were concerned about or ways to maintain what you have.

Stick to the plan you made with your doctor so that once your next annual checkup rolls around, you can show improvement in the health factors they noted.

After that, it’ll just be a matter of putting your doctor and your strategies into place. Whether that’s exercising more often, trying out a new diet, or a combination of several healthy lifestyle choices, making it a consistent part of your routine will be important to maintaining the healthy changes. Then comes tracking the vital signs. This can be tricky since you may not always be able to tell when your blood pressure or blood sugar aren’t optimal, meaning you’ll likely need to pick up some equipment to do the readings for you. Once you can track your vitals at home, stick to the plan you made with your doctor so that once your next annual checkup rolls around, you can show improvement in the health factors they noted.

Physical Changes

A final way you can measure your general health beyond weight loss is a little abstract and may not paint the full picture, but you can look for physical changes that can point toward being healthier. One of the most obvious to track is the amount of fat you hold around your waist. Belly fat (also called visceral fat) is tied to a number of medical issues and reducing this can reduce your risk. You can measure this with a tape measure around your waist at belly button height, with the ideal measurement being 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women (though there are a LOT of factors that can change that number). What is more important is improvement. If your measurement comes in at 50 inches as a man, you don’t need to get to 40 inches that year. If you’re able to get to a measurement of 47 inches, that shows improvement. By the same token, clothes fitting better or a bit looser can be a sign you’re losing fat, even if it doesn’t show on the scale. Similar to your weight, though, size isn’t everything, and it’s important to take your whole health and the other factors we discussed into account.

Improvement is what matters most. If your measurement comes in at 50 inches, you don’t need to get to 40 inches that year. Instead, 47 inches shows improvement.

If belly fat isn’t a concern for you, there are other physical signs of impaired health that you may want to correct. For example, having dark circles or bags under your eyes can be a sign of poor sleep, fluid retention, or simple heredity. Working to improve your sleeping patterns may take a physical form if your bags go away. Similarly, if you notice you’re having bathroom issues, switching to a healthier diet may be reflected physically in these bathroom concerns clearing up.

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Of course, you could also know you’re getting healthier because you just feel better. This is probably the least tangible or trackable of any of the health measurements we listed, but if you begin living a healthier lifestyle, there may come a time when things just feel easier. You’re climbing stairs without feeling winded. You don’t feel as tired all the time. You just feel better. At the end of your health journey, this should be your goal. Feeling better, whether you’ve lost weight or not, whether you can run for a mile or not, or whether those aspirational jeans fit or not. The point is to feel healthier and make improvements that have a real impact on your quality of life!