Fulfilling Your Healthy Resolutions Begins by Knowing Your Numbers

Most of us have health related goals we’d like to achieve in this New Year. According to the Nielsen 2015 survey, health and fitness held the top two spots for New Year’s Resolutions last year and, by all indications, will continue to top the NYR lists. Despite the popularity of these health-related resolutions for the New Year, most of us fail to keep them. Perhaps that is why we find ourselves returning to the same resolutions year after year. The good news is we have more resources now than ever to make smarter health resolutions--resolutions we can use to learn more about our health, and resolutions that we can keep.

So how do we increase our chances of success this year? As with any goal we make for ourselves, we have to start off with a strategy for success. The goal must be well defined so we know where we are going and how far we have to get there. If not, we find ourselves struggling, making excuses, or worse, falling back into old habits and avoiding our goals all together.  Because these resolutions are often qualitative—e.g., shed weight, exercise more, etc.—they don’t provide us with concrete, quantifiable goals.

Health is More than One Number

It can be problematic, however, when we become too specific by focusing on one specific number/measure (often body weight or waist size), while overlooking our overall health picture. If we track a variety of health measures over time we can discover trends in our overall health and understand how all of these pieces can fit together to create a more comprehensive awareness of our health and well-being.

For example many people find weight to be an easy gauge to measure and track.  When weight decreases, most of us think we are healthier.  But we may lose weight due to unhealthy reasons—e.g., stress, improper eating, sickness, or excessive dieting. In these cases, the weight loss is not an indicator of a healthier you. In fact, you may be storing more fat and wasting muscle. Your health may have deteriorated instead of improved. So it is better to track a variety of health measures to understand the bigger picture and realtionships of various aspects of your health.

Similar to weight, Body Mass Index (BMI) is a fast and easy measure to track. BMI is most effective as a screening tool for overweight and obese populations, but it is not diagnostic. BMI is calculated by a ratio of weight to height. It assumes an average amount of muscle for your height. BMI is not always a helpful indicator on its own, as it does not measure the actual percentage of muscle or fat on your body. Devices that can compute fat and muscle percentages based on a variety of specific composition variables are more helpful.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to get specific and accurate health and fitness numbers and understand how these numbers relate. There are now many tools available—e.g., gadgets, apps, wearable devices, and other online resources to help us gather our health information and understand how these health measures correlate and provide a clearer and more accurate health narrative.  Equipped with this knowledge, we can design a more effective health/fitness program that will allow us to fullfill our 2016 goals.

Numbers That Create A more Accurate Picture

So, what numbers do we need to know?  This will vary depending on your specific health needs and desires for improvement, but in addition to your height and weight, there are many important numbers you can measure and track on your own. Some examples are blood pressure, lean body mass, heart rate, metabolic rate and daily caloric expenditure, body mass index (BMI,) body fat, waist measurement, and hip to waist ratio.  You can purchase blood pressure monitors and body composition monitors with scales online or at most drug stores.  But for the best accuracy on body composition you may want to have your measurements taken professionally at a clinic, hospital or other facility that conducts body composition analyses with trained staff and on reliable equipment. The lab at The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington provides a variety of tests and packages for fitness testing and body composition analyses. Hot Yoga Capitol Hill also conducts fitness assessments and body composition analyses to members and the community.

Once you have these valuable numbers, you can set empirical, quantifiable goals by comparing your numbers to established standards to make sure your goals will (at minimum) move you away from any high-risk group in which you might find yourself (any alarming numbers should be discussed with your doctor). Here are some charts/tables that will help you interpret your numbers when compared to national/international recommendations. 

When you know your numbers, you improve the accuracy of your health knowledge. When you have tools to track and interpret these numbers, you can find relationships and come up with a more comprehensive health picture and narrative. You may need to revise and restart your New Year’s Resolutions, but the year has just begun. It is not too late to improve your odds for success in 2016 and beyond!

Lara Atella is a Yoga Instructor and manager at Hot Yoga Capitol Hill, 410 H St., NE, DC.

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