When a runner sets out to improve her time in a race, she must know her previous time in order to beat it. In many ways, improving our health is the same. What are your goals related to your health? Do you know the numbers in order to achieve them?
There is a better indicator of health than the number you see on the bathroom scale. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) takes both your height and weight into consideration. The formula to figure out your BMI is weight (pounds) / height (inches)2 x 703. Find a website or app to easily do your calculations, or ask your healthcare provider the next time you are in the clinic. Your BMI is only a clue to your risk for weight-related health problems; it does not give a full picture.
Your waist-to-hip ratio is an important number to know because where you carry excess weight can put you at greater risk for health problems, and is a better picture than your BMI. The waist-to-hip ratio compares the waist measurement to your hip measurement. Find your waist measurement (smallest point of your waist, usually around your belly button), then measure your hips at the widest part. Divide your waist size by your hip size. That is your waist-to-hip ratio. A ratio higher than 1.0 for both men and women means a higher risk of health problems.
Body Fat Percentage
This measurement is not as easy to obtain, however, it is worth the effort to know your body fat percentage. Whereas BMI measures your quantity of mass, think of the body fat percentage as a measurement of quality. This is a good indicator of your fitness level. A skin caliper can be used by a trained professional to measure your body fat percentage. Some digital bathroom scales offer a body fat scale and can be easily measured at home. It may not be as accurate as other methods, but can be a helpful tool when measuring and tracking progress.
Keep in mind, a body measurement number is not going to give you a full or perfect picture of your health. The numbers are only clues. How you treat your body and mind are better indicators of your overall health.
We need to know the numbers of our cholesterol (and to know the difference between good and bad cholesterol) to know whether action needs to be taken to lower your cholesterol. By knowing the levels and types of lipoprotein in your blood, your doctor will know what measures can bring the high cholesterol under control. Medication can help with cholesterol, but lifestyle changes are also beneficial. Learn how to eat heart-healthy foods at MyPlate, increase your physical activity and exercise, stop smoking, lose weight, and limit alcohol intake.
Do you listen for the numbers when your blood pressure (BP) is taken as well as what the top and bottom numbers indicate? The next time you have a BP check at your doctor’s office, jot down the numbers. Systolic is the top number and normal systolic pressure is less than 120. A normal reading for the bottom diastolic number is less than 80. A high reading is considered 130–139 over 80–89. Because a high BP puts you at greater risk of heart attack or stroke, it’s important to know these numbers and take steps toward lowering them. Ask your doctor for suggestions.
If you have diabetes, monitoring your numbers is critical so you know how to adjust your diet or whether you require medication. More than 80 million people have been diagnosed with prediabetes, which places them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes come quickly—the person becomes ill and requires the ongoing use of insulin to survive. Type 2 diabetes develops slowly and worsens gradually—it may not be diagnosed for several years. Screening for Type 2 diabetes is recommended every three years, beginning at age 45. If you have risk factors—family history, are overweight, little physical activity, have been diagnosed with prediabetes, and several other potential indicators—screening should begin sooner.
When women have concerns about hormones, especially when approaching menopause, knowing the hormone levels helps to gauge whether they are changing. The usual means of knowing you’re going into menopause—hot flashes and irregular periods—may only reveal part of the overall picture.
Blood tests can show levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol), which fluctuate—FSH increases and estradiol decreases in menopause. The thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) shows symptoms of an underactive thyroid, which can resemble menopause. Because hormones fluctuate, especially for women, an important question to ask your healthcare provider is the best time of the month to have the blood test. Recording your complete cycle a few months prior to your appointment will prove beneficial.
This winter is a great opportunity to choose an area to focus on and to take charge of improving your health. But first, know the numbers so you can be encouraged as you measure your progress!