What’s Normal? Getting to Know your Body

Posted on Jun 13 2017 - 3:21pm by Ashlea Curley

We all have different routines and regimes that influence our bodies. We all also know when our bodies are acting out. But what if I told you there is a way to take control of our bodies and healthcare? By understanding how our bodies work and keeping track of what we put into our bodies, we can help ourselves and our doctors to beat any sign of disease or illness.

First to help us become experts of our own bodies, we need to keep track of what is going on to notice any differences so it can be useful to create a health diary. It helps both you and your doctor to understand your body by noting illnesses, medicines, treatments and procedures. Overall, you become in control of your body and healthcare, and it will keep you healthy.

Your health history

We’d recommend purchasing a diary that you can keep separate from your day to day activities as initially your health diary will entail a lot of detail. And a great place to start, is with yours and your family’s health history.

If you don’t already know it- talk with your parents and grandparents about their health conditions and history. This information can prove extremely beneficial when talking with doctors and nurse practitioners in guiding any treatment and medication as their conditions could be indicitive of your current and future health.


Your family history can be indicitive of your health future

In addition to your family’s history, make a note of any preexisting medical conditions and any medications you take. For example, the contraception you use, allergies and medications you take for them, inhalers etc. It may also be beneficial to get key information from your doctors such as blood type and if possible an outline of your most recent blood test.

When faced with an emergency or even discussing your future or current health you will have the basis of knowledge you can draw on quickly and share with a medical professional. This will ensure from the outset you get the best advice and care possible.

Starting your health diary

Once you’ve got an understanding of your history. The next step is to get a current snapshot of your health at this point in time.

At the beginning of your health journey make a note of your current stats. Include:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Weight
  • Bodily dimensions (bust, waist, hip, thigh, arms etc.)

In particular your heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol are key insights into your overall health and can tell a practitioner an awful lot about your current state of health. In addition, taking this information now and again at the end of the trial period will help you see any visible changes to your efforts.


The true measure of health is blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol

Some things to note when it comes to your ‘key’ stats:

  • Weight can be a tricky thing to measure! We all base our body weight either through BMI, scales or dress sizes, but because you are a bigger size than what’s socially considered ‘the right size’ doesn’t mean you’re over weight. BMI only measures our body fat against our weight and height, whereas to achieve a realistic measurement we need to include muscle and bone density. As everyone’s bodies and lifestyles are different, BMI can be a good starting point to discover your key stats.
  • Blood pressure is key to understanding your health! It helps your heart to pump blood around your body. A high blood pressure can create a strain on your heart. Whereas, for a healthy person, their blood pressure should return to normal quite quickly after exercise. The average blood pressure measures around 120/80. If yours is higher, exercise helps to keep blood pressure down.
  • Cholesterol is essential for our bodies but too much of it can be harmful to our hearts! Cholesterol is made in the body by the liver but is also found in certain foods. It encourages healthy cell function in our bodies but if we eat too much we risk heart and circulatory diseases. Healthy adults should have a recommended 5mmol/L but if you are concerned about the level of cholesterol in your body you can change your diet, exercise to break down any fats and stop smoking to reduce any high cholesterol.

What to record

It’s worth diarising all of your habits for at least 4 weeks to get a greater idea of how your body functions. To get a clear understanding of your health it’s best to note as much information as possible. What we’re suggesting may seem extensive but it’ll really help you understand your current health picture and trajectory and enable you to take steps now to improve your health and help identify any potential path to disease and illness later down the line. In your diary daily make a note of the following:

  • What time you went to sleep and woke up– make additional notes of quality of sleep and if you disturbed at all in the night, for how long and a rough idea of time. A sleep app will do all this working out for you so it may be worth investing in one, though there are lots of free ones too. Sleep Cycle  is a great app that’ll also help wake in your lightest sleep phase near the time you want to get up so you feel the best you can in the morning.
  • What you eat and drink throughout the day– keep track of everything you eat and drink including supplements, snacks, alcohol and even what you cook in/with etc. Also make a note of the time you ate and where- sounds strange but if you’re eating whilst working it could be impacting your health. If you can, be specific on the portion sizes you have too.
  • Note the exercise you do throughout the day– record steps, flights climbed, heart rate if you can get it, actual programmes you participate in and the length of time you do it. Apple have a health app which records a number of these things for you so again may be worth installing something like this to make it easier for you.
  • Note down your mood and general feeling–  You should also write down any pains, weaknesses, difficulties in breathing and general mood. Remember to be specific by noting the area and characteristics of the pain. Also note any medication you took to numb the pain and any reactions. If you’re visiting the doctor during this exercise remember to record any treatments or medicines too. With regards to your general mood- pay particular attention to your energy levels and whether you feel sad, happy, tired, like you’ve too much adrenaline etc. This information will be surprisingly beneficial in the steps following your health diary.
  • Even when you go to the bathroom– Using the Bristol Stool Chart make a note of the types of bowel movement you have and the frequency you go. Also make a note of the amount of times you go for a wee too and it’s colour. On average, many people poo just once a day and wee between six and eight times but frequency and amount is down to our personal dietary habits so don’t be concerned at this stage. But this information can be very indicitive of your health and highlight ways in which changes to your lifestyle can be improved for overall better health.  
  • Finally, make a note of your period– many of us just regard it as a thing that happens to us once a month and the little it happens, the better. But changes here could signal something is going on with your health too. When it comes to your period note when it starts, how long it goes on for, the flow and how this changes, any clotting noticed, smells, colour and any pain you get with it and the medication required to help it settle.
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It’ll mean keeping track of everything for up to 4 weeks- though we’d recommend carrying on with it!

What to do with the results

When you’ve completed your 4 weeks diary, make a note of your key stats to see if there’s been any changes- if you’re habits haven’t changed that much it should be relatively stable.

Mostly this exercise is about understanding what is normal for you. When it comes to bodily functions, everyone differs because our habits, diets and lifestyles are different so comparisons can be difficult. But you can use this exercise to improve your health with immediate effect. Once you’ve completed your health diary you can review your notes to spot patterns. Diet and mood for example hold a number of links (as does diet and most aspects of health) and next week we’ll be talking to a nutritionist about how you can use the results to spot ways to quickly and immediately help you feel, generally, better.

For others, this may be an opportunity to create a snapshot of your health so that when something does go awry you can pursue another health diary noting changes in your health which you can use as evidence and a communication tool when meeting a medical practitioner to discuss your concerns and help guide your treatment- next week we’ll also be delving into this aspect further.

When you undertake new habits, lifestyle changes and/or diet it will be worth pursuing this exercise again. Particularly when you’re at your healthiest. Spotting changes and patterns in this methodical way, although time consuming, will ensure you’re always at your healthiest.

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