Ever thought of treating your body in a similar way you'd treat a business?
Businesses routinely collect all sorts of numbers, because numbers tell a story. By measuring activities and outcomes in businesses, we can understand the drivers of business performance, and use these insights to take corrective action and maximise success.
In the past, keeping track of your personal health and wellbeing wasn't that easy. You could weigh yourself, have your blood pressure taken by a doctor, but the amount of actual health data was quite limited. This has all changed over the last few years, though. Thanks to advances in technology such as smart phones and sensors in wearable devices, you can now measure and track all kinds of things that can help you reduce risk and improve the quality and longevity of your life.
Like most things, tracking is a habit and here are 7 things that you can track consistently to build up your own wellbeing profile:
1. Measure how active your are, for instance how far you run or walk.
Moving your body is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. There are a whole range of devices now available that help you track your steps and compare your activity levels with others. The device usually sits on your wrist, measuring motion and counting your steps. Sensors in the device measure the acceleration, frequency, duration, intensity and patterns of your movement—taken together that's a good collection of data that can help you take action.
Why should you care? Exercise is an important healthy habit with plenty of data highlighting the link between fitness and longevity. In one study, for instance, researchers in Australia found that people who engaged in small amounts of vigorous activity (such as jogging or aerobics) could help reduce the risk of early death.
2. Measure your blood glucose levels.
The fasting test is most commonly used to measure blood glucose levels. As the name suggests, you need to take a blood sample after fasting (usually at least eight hours without food - you are allowed water), so it is normally taken in the morning before breakfast.
Why should you care? With over 4 million people in the UK living with diabetes, and rising, the blood glucose test will help you keep track and adjust what you eat to protect yourself.
3. Measure your nutrient levels, such as Vitamin D.
Many of us, more than 50% in the UK, are deficient in vitamin D. You can find out if you are one of them by having a blood test, the only accurate way to know if you have a deficiency.
Why should you care? Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and for protecting against a host of health problems. If you are deficient, you can easily improve the levels by:
4. Measure body fat composition, especially the amount of visceral fat.
- Getting more sun – 10 minutes of sunlight per day has been shown to make a very positive difference.
- Eat oily fish such as mackerel and tuna
- Taking a good quality supplement
Weight is a good measure, but on its own it isn’t particularly helpful. Measuring ‘visceral fat’ - the fat that accumulates deep in the abdomen, dangerously surrounding internal organs, is a much more important metric to track. You can track your visceral fat using a smart scales such as the Withings.
Don’t want to invest in a smart scale? Another cruder method is to take a circumference measurement of your waist and hip which will give you your waist to hip ratio:
If the number is higher than 1.0 for men, or 0.85 for women, then the visceral fat is considered excessive. For instance, for a man a ratio of 36/40 is good. This is an easy, if not entirely accurate way to measure your visceral fat.
- Measure the circumference of your waist with a tape measure (around the largest point)
- Do the same for your hips
- Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
Why should you care? High visceral fat is dangerous and is correlated with cholesterol, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other conditions.
5. Track your sleep.
You can measure the quantity and quality of your sleep using a plethora of apps and wearable devices now available. The best sleep-tracking apps come with a hardware component such as a wristband or under-the-sheet sensor and have contact with the body during the night. The tracker translates wrist movements into sleep patterns as best it can. It's a useful guide, but it's not as accurate as polysomnography—the process used by experts to measure sleep in a lab - which monitors brain activity rather than how much you're tossing and turning.
Why should you care? Whatever age you are, there’s plenty of evidence to show that adequate sleep fuels your mind and body and helps you cope with life's ups and downs. Whilst you’re sleeping, your body recovers from the stresses of the day. Think of sleep as a mechanism by which your body restores its energy. So when you get sufficient sleep, you feel more alive, your concentration is improved and you’re able to function better.
6. Understand your genetic profile
As well as regular measuring and monitoring, there are some insights that you can get as a one-off that will help you understand yourself better. A good example of this is genetic profiling. Researchers tend to agree that lifestyle has a bigger impact on health than genetics, but having your genetics mapped will give you all kinds of insights, helping you understand your family health risks amongst other things. 23andme offer this service and I recently took the test and learnt that:
- I don’t have a high risk for getting certain genetic linked conditions such as Alzheimers or Parkinson's disease
- 99.6% of my DNA comes from Europe, 0.3% from the Middle East & North Africa
- I am not especially sensitive to alcohol, and am able to taste certain bitter flavours
- There’s a 53% chance that I’ll have blonde hair, and a 72% chance of having blue eyes
- A diet high in monounsaturated fat is not likely to have beneficial effects on BMI or waist circumference
- I have the same genotype as many world-class sprinters...
- I have 23 third cousins in America…
So, whilst intuition will give you a sense of what’s important to you, combining intuition with data, hard facts, will enable you to make more confident decisions to prevent disease, or get better treatment when you do get sick.
Going forward, with devices and sensors becoming cheaper and more sensitive each year, it won’t be long before you’ll be able to gain even deeper insights.
Start tracking today and allow your future self to thank you!
Find out your own internal health
Our blood contains so many insights, and now, companies such as Livesmart have developed a way to help you access these insights more easily to better understand and analyse all the major areas of your internal health. Find out more here.