How Healthy Are You?
It’s not easy to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle in our affluent modern society. In fact, we find healthy living so difficult that hundreds of millions worldwide are suffering under our self-imposed lifestyle disease epidemic.
But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. Society may bombard us with countless ways to self-destruct, but it also offers everything we need to build an extraordinarily long and healthy life.
If you look after yourself, you have a real chance to live (and live well) to 100 and beyond. In fact, I would recommend anyone scoring well on the tests outlined below to get a copy of The 100-Year Life to make sure you get the most out of this wonderful gift of extra time.
But before we can start planning what to do with all those extra years, we must earn them. And one of the best ways to do this is by regularly measuring our health. Indeed, measurement brings awareness and motivation: two essential tools for carving out a healthy lifestyle in today’s world.
This article outlines four interesting health metrics that will give you an objective picture of your general health in under 10 minutes. Each metric features a clearly identified target zone and some useful action steps to take when you find that you miss the mark.
Let’s get started!
Metric 1: Self-destructive habits
The best place to start is to honestly assess whether you’re actively destroying your own health. We’ll look at the three most common means to self-destruction: smoking, alcohol, and empty calories.
The effects of alcohol use are a bit more nuanced. Heavy drinking (men/women) and binge drinking are unquestionably bad, but having a glass of wine every once in a while does not entail serious risks.
Empty calories include all those tasty treats with little or no nutritional value. Consuming these foods makes it very difficult to get all the nutrients we need while maintaining a healthy weight. Sugar and other refined carbs, trans fats, and various additives in empty calorie foods bring additional health risks.
If you find yourself outside the target zone, the best place to start is to make sure that the environments in which you spend most of your time do not contain your problem substance. It’s critical to build substantial friction into the process of self-destruction. The more effort it requires, the better.
Next, raise your awareness of the things that trigger strong cravings for your problem substance. Then systematically eliminate each trigger from your life. Some triggers can be tough to remove, but your health is worth the effort.
Metric 2: Smart BMI
Most people know the body mass index, BMI for short. It offers a simple quantification of whether you’re at a healthy weight. There are serious health risks involved in being either overweight or underweight.
BMI has several shortcomings though. The key challenge is that it does not distinguish between fat and muscle mass. For this reason, it should never be used as a standalone health indicator.
Another important issue is that BMI does not adjust for age. Specifically, a somewhat higher BMI appears to be advantageous in older adults. This is the key improvement offered by the Smart BMI measure.
A Smart BMI between 30/70 and 39/70 is considered healthy.
If you’re outside the target zone, you need to adjust your calorie intake accordingly. Of course, doing this is much easier said than done.
In general, the best advice is to target permanent lifestyle change instead of the latest fad diet. If you’re trying to lose weight, focus on permanently bringing more filling foods into your life at the expense of empty calories.
Make very gradual changes to relocate your calorie intake to a healthier level, ensuring that each small change is sustainable. Then, be patient. Your weight will take several weeks to equilibrate to your new calorie intake level.
Metric 3: Biological age
It’s certainly possible to be at a healthy weight, but still unhealthy overall. In particular, a sedentary lifestyle is a serious health risk that is not directly captured by BMI measurements.
That’s where biological age comes in. This metric is based on VO2 max and waist measurements. VO2 max is a good measurement of general cardiorespiratory fitness, which is increasingly viewed as a clinical vital sign. Waist measurement is a simple indicator of whether you have excess fat around your vital organs, which entails cardiovascular health risks.
There are several biological age calculators available online, but I prefer this one. It’s reasonably thorough, yet simple and practical. It’s also less forgiving than other options, giving a more realistic assessment.
Your biological age should be lower than your actual age, preferably by 10 or more years (note that the calculator only goes down to 20).
A high biological age simply means that you should move more. Similar to the guidelines given above for weight loss, you’re encouraged to target permanent lifestyle change instead of the latest miracle fitness program.
Make gradual changes, ensuring that each small change is sustainable. For sustainability, it’s best to find a form of exercise you genuinely enjoy. Two additional good tips are to add a social element to exercise and to make sure you regularly spend some time in nature (even if it’s just your local park).
In addition, seek out any free exercise in your daily life. Take the stairs, play more with the kids, do more walking at the office to talk to colleagues or get some water, choose walking or cycling over the car for any short trip, etc.
Metric 4: Common illnesses
Common illnesses like the flu or the common cold are more than just an annoyance — they’re an important indicator that you’re not giving your body everything it needs for optimal health.
Inadequate nutrition is the most common reason for regularly getting sick, but there are many other possible factors. Aside from the issues identified by the previous three metrics, illness can also stem from other things like stress, sleep deprivation, and air pollution.
Our modern world makes it fully possible to never get sick. A good goal to strive for is to experience no more than one sick-day per year.
If you get sick too often, it’s important to honestly assess potential causes and take appropriate action when needed. Here are some useful guidelines.
First, assess your nutritional profile using this website. For the best overview, add all the foods you eat in a week and then set the number of servings at the top of the screen to seven. If you see any deficiencies (aside from vitamin D that we get mostly from the sun), find the best sources of the deficient nutrients here and include some of them in your diet.
Next, take these quick quizzes about stress and anxiety. If you score high on any of these tests, it’s time to act. Is the source of stress within your control? Then channel all that restless energy into doing something about it. Identify one action that can permanently shrink this stressor and make it your top priority. Is it totally out of your hands? Then practice letting go. Things like exercise, yoga, and meditation can help a lot in this respect.
Third, think carefully about your sleeping habits. Do you get your average of 7–9 hours per day with a high degree of regularity? If not, installing a sleep tracker on your phone is a great way to raise awareness of this critical issue. I use Sleep Cycle. Also, ensure that you practice good sleep hygiene.
Lastly, check the air quality in your town. If you live in a region with high air pollution, make sure not to exercise outdoors on highly polluted days. In really polluted cities, a face mask may be required.
Indoor air quality is just as important. From personal experience, I can recommend investment in a home air purifier and air quality monitor. These devices can improve general health as well as sleep quality.
If you’re doing everything right and still get sick more than once per year, consult your doctor to see if there is another cause.
Measurement can work wonders
To get the most value out of these health metrics, they should be measured regularly, at least once per quarter. It doesn’t need to take more than 10 minutes each time. I strongly recommend setting up a recurring reminder in your calendar to make sure you don’t forget.
For maximum motivation, plot the key indicators on some pretty graphs. As an illustration of what this might accomplish, here’s what happened after I identified my ideal Smart BMI about one year ago and decided to go for it.
Here are my biological age and a similar metric called metabolic age, calculated by my body composition monitor based on body fat measurements. You can see the positive effect this measurement had all the way back in 2014/2015 when I realized my metabolic age is too close to my actual age.
If you manage to hit the target on all these metrics, I’m pretty sure you’ve set yourself up for a long and healthy life. That being said, the metrics discussed in this article are not intended as a replacement for regular medical checkups. Instead, they’re intended to turn future medical checkups into confidence-boosting sessions where your doctor tells you just how fabulously healthy you are 🙂
I really hope these metrics can be as useful for you as they are for me. My research and experience suggest that a genuinely healthy lifestyle may well be the single best thing you can give yourself, your family, and your planet!
So, if you’ve had no luck with all those fad diets, exercise gizmos, and chemical cures, perhaps it’s time to try something new: informed measurement.