Check In on Your Health by Watching These Numbers

Feb. 15, 2021
A finger taps a smartphone with a health app open

Many of us have been putting off our regular doctor’s visits over the last year because of the risks of catching COVID-19. But you can’t stop caring for your physical health, especially during a pandemic.

One relatively easy way you can monitor your health, without ever leaving your home, is by actively observing certain health markers at regular intervals. These health markers may include your resting heart rate, weight, body fat percentage, and waist circumference.

Each of these numbers plays a role in gauging your risk for many chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes.

How often should you check? It depends on your goals. You might start by measuring these markers once each month. If you see dramatic changes in the numbers from month to month, that may mean it’s time to bear down, mask up, and make an appointment with your physician.

Health markers to monitor

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Normal resting heart rates for adults range from 60 to 100 beats per minute. A lower resting heart rate implies healthier cardiovascular fitness. Factors that may affect heart rate include body position, medications, emotions, and even surrounding air temperature.

To measure your heart rate, find your pulse on your wrist, the inside of your elbow, the side of your neck, or the top of your foot. Put a finger over your pulse and count the number of beats in 60 seconds, or take the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four.

Your body weight can also be a helpful health signal. Rapid weight loss and rapid weight gain are both strong indicators of health conditions that require medical attention. You’re more likely to see slow weight gain over time, though, and that gradual increase can lead to health issues.

Checking your weight requires nothing more than a basic scale. Pairing a weight measurement with other body composition markers, however, will create a better representation of your health risks than weight alone.

Body fat percentage is one of those body composition metrics. Healthy body fat percentage ranges are 20 to 32% for people who were assigned female at birth and 10 to 22% for those who were assigned male. A person with a higher percent of body fat has a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes, gall bladder disease, and stroke.

Many commercial scales measure body fat as well as weight. If you don’t have access to one, an online calculator can help you estimate. You’ll just need a tape measure for calculating the circumferences of your waist, hip, wrist, and forearm.

While you’ve got that tape measure out, consider jotting down your waist circumference separately. Greater health risks are associated with waist measurements of more than 35 inches for people who were assigned female at birth and more than 40 inches for people who were assigned male at birth. To get an accurate reading, stand and wrap the measure around your waist just above your hipbones, around your navel. Take the measurement after exhaling.

Don’t have a marked tape measure? Watch how your waist circumference compares to the non-stretchy waistband of a pair of pants. Are the pants tighter or looser from week to week or month to month? Or consider using a shoestring or strips of cloth. Wrap the string around your waist and mark where it overlaps with a pen or a paper clip. Is the marker moving, or does it remain the same each time? 

Tracking your health markers

So now you know some of your important health numbers, and you’re wondering what to do with them. Start keeping track! Logging the information lets you compare from measurement to measurement, and the written record can be helpful when communicating with your health care providers.

Check out the many logging apps that are available for your smartphone, or just write the health markers down in a dedicated notebook, journal, or personal spreadsheet. The best logging method is the one you’ll actually use.

Monitoring these physical markers are just one avenue for you to stay in tune with your health. Remember that there are many dimensions of wellness, and that other areas of your life – such as your emotional stress levels and your feeling of social connection – can impact what you see on the scale.

Please visit our Upcoming Events section to learn about other opportunities to increase your overall well-being, from virtual workshops to video practices and more.