Your Approach to Measuring Health Can Determine Your Objectives


No matter what organization you work for, chances are you’ve heard of SMART goals. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s an effective method for setting objectives for improvement that are within reach.

Absent leadership, however, most individuals fail to apply this method to their own efforts. This extends beyond work and into the realm of something we’re all familiar with: achieving and maintaining good health.

We often seek to pursue a more healthy lifestyle, even if our motivation level fluctuates. But without the aid of a professional, such as a doctor or trainer, we can struggle to make steady progress. Keeping it smart may require changing your approach to measuring and tracking your own health.

Going beyond weight

On a basic level, most people track their health using the weighing scale. It’s a simple, universal tool that’s commonly found in every household. But what does weight really measure?

Weight is merely one component of a health metric called BMI, or body mass index. BMI helps to gauge your level of body fat. Because obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, it follows that BMI, and therefore weight, can tell us about how healthy we are.

The problem with this approach is that it’s oversimplified. Weight doesn’t tell you about the body’s composition, and it could be increased by lean muscle mass, which any fitness buff knows is a desirable thing. It also doesn’t tell you about the distribution of body fat, so comprehensive BMI measures use calipers to determine how much fat is accumulated around the waistline.

Furthermore, focusing on measurements like weight is correlated with avoidance. You track weight loss or gain because you’re trying to avoid the negative effects associated with being overweight. The same thing goes for tracking blood pressure, cholesterol, or sugar levels.

Exploring other metrics

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People who have a more nuanced understanding of health know that there are many other metrics you can look at. Professional athletes, for instance, are likely to monitor measurements of metabolic rate and VO2max.

Such metrics can tell us more about improving performance in sports or other activities of similar intensity. Researchers have also used them to devise training programs for the non-athletic population. It’s been demonstrated, for instance, that while VO2max and metabolism both decline with age, committing to an intense and varied training routine will help resist this effect.

Technology has made it even easier to keep track of these metrics. The most accurate measurements of metabolism and VO2max still require high-tech equipment and facilities with a medical-grade air compressor. But wearables such as the Breezing Pro metabolic tracker or Garmin 230 chest strap can provide reasonably close results for the casual user.

A holistic approach

When you start to track health using more sophisticated measures than weight gain or loss, something changes. You become more aware of what health really means. And your focus is reframed in terms of positive performance, instead of only seeking to avoid negative outcomes by observing some minimum exercise and nutrition.

There’s something else everyone can do to improve further in this regard, and that’s assessing their overall health. A self-administered test called the SF-36 Short Form Survey is available online for free. It’s been well-researched and is used worldwide as the gold standard for measuring health across eight domains, including physical, emotional, mental, and other aspects.

Taking this test will give you a broader outlook on health as more than just a diet or a fitness routine. It’s a prompt for reflection on other aspects of your lifestyle. And by increasing this awareness, you can start to take smart steps towards improvement on a holistic level.

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