I received an email on Monday from our dear Amelia. You remember her. It contained a simple question that, of course, required a complicated answer. Her question: "What way or ways would you want your trainees to track their overall health over time to make sure they are on the right track?"
In the interest of being an inquisitive prick, I'll answer your question with a question: what do you define as health? Personally, I think this varies considerably among our clients and the world at large. For some, it's going up the stairs without running out of breath; for others it's having 5% bodyfat and chiseled abs. Ultimately, I think true health and wellness lies somewhere between these extremes.
As far as how you can go about tracking your own health, there's a multitude of options and tests that can be done. I'll run through some now...
1) Body Fat Percentage. An obvious starting point. This chart outlines what is regarded as the standard recommended body fat percentage ranges. Ultimately, most ladies should probably aim for between 15-25%.
2) Body Mass Index. BMI is completely fucking useless. I just wanted to put this on here to say that. I'm 5'8" and 198lbs and according to BMI, I'm obese. So don't use BMI.
3) Blood work. This one will be a doozy so bear with me. Robb Wolf has this long-ass post on blood work, outlining a shitload of different tests you can get done. It covers adrenals, thyroid, hormones, etc. It's extensive as hell, but if you want to get as much information as possible and your insurance covers it, go for it. Otherwise, cholesterol is a very good place to start before delving too deep into other tests. When getting a cholesterol test, ensure you get the following 4 items checked:
1. HDL 2. LDL 3. LDL particle size >>This one is oft-overlooked, but it's important as LDL alone can be a misleading number 4. Triglycerides
That's a pretty good starting point for blood work. Just keep in mind: cholesterol doesn't tell the whole story. People freak the fuck out when they see these numbers and doctors will almost immediately prescribe statins or something to address the issue. My dad keeps his cholesterol medicine rubberbanded around his bottle of whiskey at home. Something tells me he should fix one problem before worrying about taking cholesterol medication. This short post by Robb Wolf goes into more on this as well.
4) Performance Tracking. This is a pretty simple one. If you're lifting more, running faster, and performing better, we can probably say that, at least physically, you're healthy. If your performance starts to decline, this doesn't necessarily mean you're becoming "less healthy" but it could help point to other things i.e. poor nutrition, poor sleep quality, etc. But if you're getting stronger, leaner, and you feel better physically, in most cases, your health is steadily improving.
5) Sleep. HUGELY important and always overlooked. Maybe not an indicator of health, but certainly a determinant of health. Good sleep affects performance (and health) in a myriad of ways i.e. stress levels, immune function, muscle recovery, etc. Try to get 8-9 hours in a cool, pitch black room, ideally with some ambient sound like a fan or something. Try to make your bedroom a cave. Remove as many electronics as possible and turn every device to Airplane Mode.
6) Stress & Happiness. This one is hugely important. Unfortunately, it's difficult to "track" your happiness and stress levels. You can kinda track systemic stress with HRV (Heart Rate Variability), but it's not perfect. Ultimately, despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, people in America are stressed to the fucking gills. Over trivial bullshit, too. People with lower stress live longer, live better, and live happier. How to get less stressed? Well, don't open a small gym in the Pacific Northwest for starters. Otherwise, maybe try Buddhism.
7) Recommended Reading. Just some books you may be interested in perusing. They touch on some of the topics mentioned above. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers - Dr. Robert Sapolsky Lights Out! Sleep, Sugar, & Survival - T.S. Wiley Drugs For Life - Joseph Dumit
That's pretty much all I got for now. I hope it helps. Thank you for the question. This is inspired me to use this as a blog post for tomorrow!
All the best,