Media and ingrained societal norms has us believe that the distinction of healthy is what the scales tell us. BMI, stones and pounds and dress size is what we’re being told is the be all and end all. But that’s just not the case. We all come in different shapes and sizes, from different cultures and lead very different lifestyles. There is no one rule for all. You can be absolutely fit and healthy but still technically overweight (thanks to BMI). We therefore think it’s important that when it comes to measuring your health, you should take a look beyond the scales.
We’re not saying rid the BMI or scale measurements all together but bear in mind that the BMI only measures the body fat based on height and weight and it can’t make the distinction between excess fat, muscle and bone density (NHS). BMI is a universal measurement that makes comparisons against the population, the results don’t necessarily mean you’re not healthy on an individual level. When it comes to our weight in terms of stones and pounds, we may be framing our expectations on the form we’ve had previously when in reality it’s likely to be unrealistic. Our bodies are constantly developing and changing, for some your hips get wider, breasts get smaller, our prefered exercise makes our muscles larger and achieving a body shape/type and even weight isn’t always possible.
Here our some ways in which to measure your health on an individual basis in addition to the BMI measurement:
Monitoring your heart rate
Monitoring your heart rate is a simple and effective way to measure your fitness and should be a primary goal. If you work out at a gym most of the machines will have heart rate monitors/sensors inclusive, if you prefer to manage your workouts at home, invest in a heart rate monitor (if you’ve got a fitbit, this is already a part of your watches functionality).
- Understand your baseline reading- what your heart rate is at its resting point
- Work out your maximum heart rate- this is your age deducted from 220. E.g. 220- 30 (your age)= 190
- Do some cardio exercise e.g. running, cross training etc. to get your heart rate to reach your heart rate peak (in e.g. 190) then STOP. NOTE: This result is the upper limit to which your cardiovascular system can handle during physical exercise. It is recommended you work with a 55-85% of the maximum amount for good aerobic exercise (Active)
- Time how long it takes for your heart rate to return to its starting point
The fitter you are, the faster this will fall.
Learn more about heart rate:
- Your heart rate, WedMD
- Your heart rate, British Heart Foundation Fact Sheet
- Target heart rate calculator, WedMD
Monitoring your blood pressure:
Blood pressure is concerned with the force your heart uses to pump the blood around your body. A healthy/normal blood pressure usually measures below 120 over 80 (mostly displayed 120/80). A high blood pressure is indicative of a strain to the heart. Exercise will obviously make the rate increase but for a healthy person, it should return to normal pretty soon afterwards. Exercise is beneficial in this area as it keeps the heart healthy and keeps the blood pressure down. If you’re concerned with your health and health is your goal, it’s worth investing in a home blood pressure monitor as a way to keep an eye on your heart’s health.
If you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure), book an appointment with your GP and talk to your trainer before conducting exercise.
When taking your blood pressure, two measurements are recorded:
- The level of pressure when your heart pumps blood around the body (systolic)
- The level of pressure when your heart is resting before it pumps again (diastolic)
The systolic pressure is when the pressure is at its highest and is the first measurement recorded (e.g. the normal pressure here should be 120) and the diastolic pressure is the measurement of pressure at its lowest and is the second measurement recorded (e.g. the normal pressure here should be 80).
If you have a blood pressure that’s consistently 140/90 or higher you may have high blood pressure (hypertension), if you’ve a consistent reading of 90/60 or lower, you may have low blood pressure and require treatment. In either scenario, book an appointment with your GP (NHS).
Checking your cholesterol:
Cholesterol is created in the body, found in some foods and is essential for cell function. But too much of it can be dangerous, especially to the heart (Heart UK). With around 1/2 of all adults aged 18+ with a higher than normal reading (the recommended 5mmol/L.) it’s about time we started concerning ourselves with our cholesterol levels in our health plans.
How to get measured:
- Visit your GP for a blood test every 5 years
- Visit your local Lloyds Pharmacy chemist for a test, this is £15 with results delivered in minutes.
- Home kits are available though their reliability seems questionable. Conduct your research thoroughly.
What the results show- as a point of reference:
- Cholesterol should be 5mmol/L for healthy adults (4mmol/L for those at higher risk)
- In terms of bad cholesterol in this total 3mmol/L is deemed normal for healthy adults (2mmol/L for those at higher risk)
- 1mmol/L is the recommendation of good cholesterol that should be present in the blood.
When having a test done at your GP or the local Lloyds Pharmacy, they’ll explain through the results with you and discuss your risk of heart disease. They’ll also discuss ways in which you can counter the risk and lead a healthier lifestyle. Some of the ways in which you can lower your cholesterol:
- Diet– the concern is on saturated fats. Looking at what your currently eating that could be contributing to bad cholesterol. Switch up where possible to unsaturated fats which are shown to contain good cholesterol.
- Smoking– contributes to high cholesterol.
- Exercise– is shown to shift the fatty deposits so they can be broken down.
- What is Cholesterol, Heart UK
- High Cholesterol Prevention, NHS
- Flora ProActiv Cholesterol Lowering Kit
- Cholesterol Test and Diagnosis, NHS
In addition to the above, it’s worth looking at your current lifestyle and analysing whether you live healthily.
Diet– It’s about a balanced diet. As the NHS says ‘A diet based on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta; with plenty of fruit and vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils; some milk and dairy foods; and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.’ (NHS)
Alcohol– is high in calories and large quantities can lead to high blood pressure and other diseases. Avoid consuming more than the government’s recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. The new recommendation (as of Jan 2016) is no more than 14 units per week, find out more at change4life.
Exercise– are you getting enough? Is it the right kind? With sedentary lifestyles, we may not be getting enough to allow our body to clear itself fully of toxins and keep our organs and joints in check. Check out the NHS Physical Activity Guidelines for recommendations and inspiration.
Smoking– It really is bad for you. If you’re seemingly doing everything else right, this one bad habit could be undoing it all for you.
Stress– It can send our bodies into overdrive, can lead to a lack of sleep, impact on our ability to function and concentrate and overall effect our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. If you’ve a high stress life, it might be time to look a little further and what lifestyle changes you can make to be more healthy. Check out our article on de-stressing for ways in which you can make changes.