Your health is about many different things. It is about physical health, mental health and even your environment. When it comes to assessing your physical health, specifically, there seems to be so many tests and numbers and equations that you can use, that it can be daunting. How do you know what measure is the most accurate?
In reality, it depends on multiple factors, and as a result, using multiple measures is a great way of getting an overall assessment of your health. Each one has its own merits, and each has its own drawbacks.
- Body Mass Index (BMI): Body Mass Index is a statistical measure of the weight of a person against their height. It gives you a loose sense of whether or not you are in a healthy weight range. Drawbacks: It does not factor in a person's frame size or what a person's weight is made up of (Fat or Muscle). If you are muscular, you will weigh more than a person who is your same size, but has more fat.
- Lean Body Mass (LBM) / Body Fat %: Unlike BMI, your Lean Body Mass and Body Fat percentage tells you how many pounds of your body are made up of lean tissue and how many pounds are made up of fat. This is a better assessment than BMI because it tells you the quality of your weight...not the quantity.
- Weight: Purely a number, your weight provides you with a very quick and accessible way of understanding where you stand. It helps you be in tune with your body's fluctuations and to see if you are gaining weight or losing weight unexpectedly. Drawbacks: It doesn't factor in your height, muscle, frame, or anything else that has an impact on your weight.
- Waist-to-Height Ratio: The Waist-to-Height ratio is determined by dividing your waist circumference by your height. Waist-to-Height ratios of 0.5 or greater are indicative of intra-abdominal fat for both men and women and are associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
- How your Clothes Fit: If you have always been a certain size and suddenly you notice your clothes are fitting differently, it might indicate a change in your health, weight and even your lean body mass. Drawbacks: Size is arbitrary and doesn't factor in your insides. Further, if you gain unhealthy weight and buy clothes to fit you as a bigger size, you may not have an accurate reference point.
- How you Feel: Are you active? Can you run or walk at a fast pace for an extended period of time? Do you feel strong? All of these are great indicators of your health. If you feel good about yourself and if you feel fit or healthy, you most likely are. If you aren't feeling well, but all of the 'stats' mentioned above are good, it might be a sign of something that is wrong medically. Drawbacks: Delusion about one's health can cause an individual to claim that they feel well, even when they aren't healthy. As a result, this measure is good for those people who are very in tune with their bodies and can detect subtle changes.
- How you Look: Do you look fit? Do you look healthy? Do you have healthy proportions to your body? If you think you look good, you probably are healthy. If you don't, it may be a reflection of a lack of health. Drawbacks: It is very subjective. If you are overly critical or have low self esteem, this may very well effect how you think you look. That said, if you are mentally healthy and are realistic, this could be a viable measure.
- Resting Heart Rate (RHR): In most cases, the lower your heart rate, the more healthy and strong your heart is. If you have a RHR that is lower than 70 beats per minute, you probably are athletic and/or exercise quite a bit. RHRs that are higher than 80 beats per minute reflect a not so healthy heart that may benefit from some exercise. Drawbacks: If you are sick or have a medical condition, this may not be a great measure of health.
Personally, I use several measures, including: Lean Body Mass and Body Fat %, my weight, my resting heart rate, how my clothes fit, how I feel and how I look. I am REALLY not a fan of BMI, as the more muscle you have, the more misleading your BMI will be. I use my weight more as a reference point to know how much I deviate from what has been a healthy, maintainable weight for myself throughout my life. If my weight fluctuates more than five pounds, I know that I'm probably off track.
What measures do you like to use? Any measures you haven't tried that you want to try now?