When I was younger the numbers I cared about were grades, how high I could jump (volleyball), how much I could bench press, the number of dollars in my bank account, the phone number of a cute girl I went to school with. Now that I'm older I still worry about the dollars in my bank account, I've graduated from worrying about how much I can bench to how much I squat, I have no idea how high I can jump but I wonder how fast I could run a 5k. I think about how much square footage I need in a home to house our growing family. Lots and lots of numbers
With health there a few key numbers that can help define your current levels and give you an idea of where you can improve. Here are a couple that are worth keeping track of:
Blood pressure is a good indicator of artery and heart health. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, your systolic and diastolic pressures. The systolic (bigger, top number) is the measure of pressure in your arteries while your heart is pumping. The diastolic number (littler, bottom number) is a measure of pressure in between heart beats, while your heart is refilling with blood. High blood pressure is associated with higher risk of heart disease and can indicate elevated levels of stress, poor artery health and high LDL cholesterol levels. The recommended blood pressure range for a healthy adult is between 90/60 and 120/80. Interestingly, many endurance athletes have lower blood pressure and resting heart rates. The argument for this is that their hearts don't need to work as hard to send blood and oxygen throughout the body.
I warred with myself about putting this one on the list because I think that weight matters a lot less than some other metrics when describing health. That being said weight is an excellent indicator of health when it crosses into either extreme. Having an exceptionally low weight or an exceptionally high weight both have their own unique risks. People that are significantly overweight often are putting undue strain on their bodies vital systems and numerous studies have shown the correlation between obesity and a variety of health problems. Likewise being significantly underweight is often associated with significant calorie deficits, insufficient nutrition and can be just as harmful as being overweight. Another impact of weight is on joint health. The general rule of thumb is that an extra pound of weight on the body adds an extra 4 lbs of stress on knee joints. Keeping yourself at a reasonable weight has a compound effect on joint health, especially those of your lower extremities. If you can lower your weight, your joints are going to feel better! In that way it's a positively reinforcing cycle. If you want to make the weigh scale a part of tracking your health think about including things like body fat percentage measurements, waist, hip and arm measurements and before and after pictures. If weight loss is your goal the scale often is not the whole picture.
This is an often confused metric of health. Your body actually needs cholesterol and if it doesn't get it through your diet it creates it internally. Cholesterol helps create a protective membrane over cells. When we talk about 'cholesterol levels', we're actually talking about the proteins that carry cholesterol through your body. We describe cholesterol by levels of both low density and high density proteins -- LDL and HDL. A lot of times people are given their total cholesterol levels (LDL + HDL) which is not a great indicator of overall heart health. We used to say that high cholesterol was a bad thing and put you at higher risk for heart disease. Now we recognize that it is high levels of LDL that are bad for you. LDL's job is to carry cholesterol to wherever it's needed in the body, HDL's job is to retrieve LDL and bring it back to the liver to be recycled. If LDL is not recycled the body will oxidize it and it will start to create plaque wherever it is parked (in arteries). So having too much LDL is bad for your heart health but you do want high levels of HDL, which helps keep you arteries and heart healthy!
Blood glucose levels are an indication of how much glucose is present in your blood (go figure?). Normal glucose numbers for a healthy adult fall between 4.4 mmol/L and 6.1 mmol/L. When you have high blood glucose levels it indicates that your body may be insulin 'insensitive'. Insulin is a storage hormone -- it promotes the absorption of sugar in your blood (which is toxic) into your skeletal muscles and fat tissues. Your body will have a reserve of glycogen that's created from this sugar -- it's your muscle fuel for hard anaerobic workouts. Eating a high amount of simple carbs increases your blood glucose levels, your body responds by sending out insulin to try and store it in your muscles and liver. If these are already full with glycogen then it can't store it easily. Your body sends out even more insulin to force the sugar to be stored and eventually finds a place to store that sugar as fat. Repeat this step over and over and your body can develop 'insensitivity' to insulin. Too much of this and you can develop type 2 diabetes. The simplest way to keep your blood sugar levels in check is to stay away from refined sugars and grains. Maintaining proper insulin sensitivity helps promote a healthy weight and also limits your risk of type 2 diabetes!
There it is, a few metrics of health. Hopefully you have learned a little something about how to track your own health and what some of the numbers your doctor spouts at you, mean. In the end your health is one of the most important things you can have. Put in a little bit of work each day and try to live a healthier life in some way.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Live your best life!