The INSIDER Summary:
- Numbers associated with health are important, but the most essential one is not necessarily your weight.
- Health professionals agree that other numbers, such as the steps you take per day and your blood pressure, are more telling of your overall health.
- It’s advised that you keep an eye on all of these numbers instead of placing so much importance on the scale.
People count everything from calories to steps. But there is one measurement that’s constantly counted, addressed, and criticized when it comes to health — a person’s weight.
Because of the emphasis placed on this digit, people tend to think it’s the only one that matters when it comes to your health. And it’s not. Your wellbeing actually comes down to a few different things that registered dietitian Nutritionist Malina Linkas Malkani, creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle, calls biomarkers.
“Following all of the health biomarkers […] can help determine whether clients are making progress and reaching their nutritional goals,” she told INSIDER.
Instead of hopping on the scale, you can actively count a few other aspects of your daily life to better measure your health. INSIDER spoke to Malkani and Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a physician and health and wellness expert, to learn what literally and figuratively counts when it comes to your health. Here’s what the experts had to say.
Both Malkani and Okeke-Igbokwe measure waist circumference in order to look at the big picture of someone’s health. Okeke-Igbokwe said that this number is helpful in assessing the risk of other serious health conditions like stroke, sleep apnea, and heart disease.
Malkani also explained that this measurement can tell her more about a patient’s potential disease risk than weight.
“Waist circumference is an indicator of visceral (or, ‘belly’) fat, which is the fat that surrounds the internal organs,” Malkani said. “Visceral fat is a much more accurate predictor of obesity-related disease risk than overall body fat.”
Glasses of water
Malkani prioritizes hydration for her clients, and is concerned that people don’t know how much water their body needs.
“Staying hydrated is also essential for our overall health and wellness, although it’s a common misconception that everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water per day,” she said. “A lot of factors go into how much water an individual needs to stay hydrated, like age, gender, activity level and climate, so rather than give my clients a number of cups they should aim for per day, I recommend that they check their urine.”
She said that the “goal” is to have a pale yellow color or lighter; anything darker is a good indicator that you aren’t drinking enough water.
Okeke-Igbokwe said your blood pressure is another number you should pay close attention to and try to control to maintain your overall health.
“When hypertension is uncontrolled, one very serious complication that may arise is atherosclerosis,” she said. “Essentially, very high blood pressures may contribute to the damage of important vessels in your body.”
This can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, meaning it’s crucial to maintain blood pressure within the range of normal. If it’s too high that means there is too much resistance inside your arteries, the American Heart Association reports.
Although you don’t necessarily have to check your own blood pressure on a daily basis, keeping this number in check is more important than you think it is.
When it comes to diet, Malkani looks at the number of fruits and vegetables a person eats each day, as well as the average number of servings of processed foods and high-glycemic foods. According to Harvard Medical School, high-glycemic foods are foods that boost blood sugar. This is often talked about in terms of diabetes, but checking it helps Malkani get a better picture of a person’s diet — diabetic or not.
She stresses that eating a greater variety will give you the most bang for your buck, nutritionally. In fact, the Victoria State Government of Australia wrote that the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their colors each have their own health benefits. So eating a wide variety of foods and colors is good for you.
“As a general rule, the more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat per day — particularly non-starchy vegetables— the better for your overall health and wellness, because fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, meaning that per calorie, they provide many healthy micronutrients like vitamins and minerals,” she explained.
SFGate reports that four or five servings of vegetables are typically recommended each day for someone who eats 2,000 calories daily. Eating everything from dark leafy greens to legumes will help you take in a variety of nutrients and vitamins.
Okeke-Igbokwe doesn’t want you to ignore your cholesterol either. Speaking to your doctor about this is highly recommended.
“There is clinical significance in knowing what your ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels are,” she said. “In general, by the time you are about 20, your cholesterol levels should be checked by your physician at least every five years.”
If you have other risks, this number might need to be checked on a more frequent basis, according to Okeke-Igbokwe. She reported that this figure could also indicate a high-risk factor for heart disease.
Steps and activity
Physical activity is crucial to maintaining strong bones, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, and improving your mood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
If counting steps motivates you to move more than the thought of going to the gym, then great. You should enjoy whatever exercise you do, and Okeke-Igbokwe suggested incorporating some form of physical activity into your daily routine.
“Studies have found a link between exercising at least 30 minutes per day with a reduction in the risk of early death,” she said. “When it comes to exercise and physical activity, the goal should really be to remain active as much as possible to really gain some heightened health benefits.”
As for how many steps you should take, she said that the number varies depending on your level of physical activity, but a good sign is if the amount you take allows you to break a sweat.
Hours spent sleeping
Okeke-Igbokwe recommended people aim for eight to nine hours every night. The National Sleep Foundation, however, recommends seven to nine for adults over 18.
“If you are able to achieve this amount of sleep you lower your risk of several chronic medical conditions,” Okeke-Igbokwe said. “Sleep deprivation has been linked to hypertension, diabetes, and even heart disease.”
The Guardian even reported that the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life. And the research from the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, backs this claim up.
Health professionals look at a combination of biomarkers to get a greater insight into someone’s overall health. There are almost too many to count, which shows how problematic it can be to place so much emphasis on the scale alone. That said, you shouldn’t stress-count another specific biomarker. Instead know that they all can help you weave your way to a healthier lifestyle.