What is Health?
If you Google the term health you’ll come up with over 4 BILLION results. Yes, BILLIONS. The very first step in growing Sustainable Wealth is to Secure Your Health but if the definition for health is so murky, how do you proceed?
You get clear on WHAT HEALTH IS, WHAT HEALTH LOOKS LIKE, and WHAT HEALTH METRICS to track.
The Oxford Dictionary defines HEALTH as: the state of being free from illness or injury or a person’s mental or physical condition. A nice textbook definition that really doesn’t say much.
Being free from illness or injury sounds great as does “being healthy” but what does that actually mean? What does one do to be healthy?
What Does Health Look Like?
After being inundated with media images of computer-altered or even artificial people, our views on what actual health looks like is somewhat distorted.
Below is a listing of key physical and mental traits that suggest inner health. I also call these traits “Healthy Ideals” as they can be goals to strive for as not many of us likely have all of them yet. These Healthy Ideals can also be used as a quick reference to alert you to areas that may need follow-up with a healthcare provider or additional monitoring.
- Hair: losing few strands a day, shiny and smooth, it’s growing and doesn’t break easily
- Eyes: able to see clearly at all distances and during all periods of day/night (with or without supplemental lenses), whites of eyes are bright, eyelid tissues are pink (not pale or red), no regularly seeing and flashes, floaters, dots, spots
- Mouth: teeth are white, gums are pink and do not bleed
- Skin: no rashes, doesn’t appear irritated or show signs of discoloration, good level of moisture and smooth texture (a soft glow), any moles or freckles have been checked by a healthcare provider yearly
- Nails: strong and slightly pink skin underneath the nail bed. Nails do not have skins of ridges, pits, or thickening. The nail itself looks smooth with a slightly glossy appearance. The nails grow well, require some force to cut and the cuticles around the nails are skin colored and the moons are white.
- Elimination: urine color should be as close to clear (color of white wine/champagne) and released every 6-7 times per day. Bowel movements should be well formed (Bristol Stool Types 3/4) and released at least once per day (ideally in the morning). Gut should have regular sounds and flatulence/stool should not be overly smelly.
- Body composition: body weight should be evenly distributed throughout body, muscle mass sufficient for regularly activity and exercise. For more on this, see the Finding Your Ideal Weight post.
- Flexibility/Joint Pain: body should be able to move freely without pain or discomfort.
- Sleep: able to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep throughout night. Waking feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
- Mental: generally have a positive mood and enjoy daily living.
- Menstrual Cycle: comes every 26 – 35 days and lasts roughly the same number of days month-to-month, PMS free, pain free, no bleeding outside period, healthy red color. Period can change with aging too.
Overall Health Metrics to Track
Figuring Out What to Track
Now that we know what good health can look like on the outside, there are a few different metrics that can be used in consultation with your healthcare provider to monitor your inner health.
Starting with SLEEP might be one of the best places to start for both physical and mental health as it is so incredibly foundational for overall health. Body fat percentage and waist circumference are other metrics but those can both be significantly impacted by a lack of sleep.
Usually people start with one metric (Sleep) and work towards optimizing it before moving on to other metrics. Others like to sleep how some of these metrics are impacted by others, for instance how sleep impacts Blood Pressure, Resting Heart Rate or Heart Rate Variability.
In terms of tracking these metrics, a simple notebook could work, especially if you’re concerned about privacy. There are also Health Apps such as Apple Health and others for specific health metrics such as heart function, sleep, and mental health.
Physical Health Metrics
Sleep Quality and Quantity
Perhaps the number one driver of health (at least in my point of view) is sleep quality and quantity. Why? Because sleep alone is fundamental to both physical and mental well-being. Without proper sleep, your brain and body cannot function properly.
How do you know if you’re getting good sleep? You wake up feeling physically refreshed and mentally alert.
For many of us, we don’t wake up this way and it’s often due to poor sleep hygiene. Properly preparing to sleep can actually fix a lot of sleep issues. You likely have a morning routine – maybe a shower, coffee, breakfast, catch-up on email/news/social media. It helps to have a similar routine and wind-down period before going to sleep. For more on sleep hygiene, see this Sleep Foundation post.
My post on 3 Keys to Long-Term Health also covers sleep.
Waist Circumference/Visceral Fat
Perhaps one of the most important measurements of health, your waist circumference and waist/hip ratio can be used to alert you to of excess visceral fat which can increase your risk of many chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease (both two incredibly costly long-term diseases).
The International Diabetes Federation guidelines for obesity by waist circumference are:
Women: > 80 cm (31.5 inches) = obese, higher risk
Men: > 90 cm (35.5 inches) = obese, higher risk
Waist circumference is measured by taking a strip of flexible tape (ideally with measurements on it/ this is a kind of soft tape often used for clothing measurements) or a string and wrapping it around your waist over top of the widest part of your abdomen or across your belly button.
If your flexible tape or string doesn’t have measurements, you can use an inflexible tape measure and lay the string on top to get the measurement. For more information on how to get this measurement, see Verywell Fit’s post on How to Measure Your Waist Circumference for Health.
Maintain Ideal Weight
There is so much that goes into finding your ideal weight that it’s handled in its own post. Check out Finding Your Ideal Weight in 5 Steps for more information.
Resting Heart Rate
Tracking your resting heart rate may be one of the quickest and easiest ways to take a quick ‘pulse’ on your overall health. A resting heart rate of below 90 beats per minute can be a sign of cardiovascular health and fitness. A normal resting heart rate can be anywhere between 60 – 100 beats per minute.
When you wake up in the morning and are still in bed, take you index and middle fingers and find your pulse on your neck or on the inner side of your wrist. Using a watch, count the number of beats for 30 seconds and then double the amount. If it’s below 100 beats per minute it’s considered normal.
Used along with blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring, your resting heart rate can help provide a better picture of how well your heart is functioning.
Blood pressure is another great way to monitor your overall health. Increased blood pressure can be caused by a variety of reasons but generally, an elevated or increased value means that your heart is working harder to pump blood than normal and that can have serious consequences for your whole body.
Getting a blood pressure cuff and taking regular measurements at home is a great way to track this metric. Some people have “white coat syndrome” and their blood pressure naturally increases at the doctor’s office and their reading will be artificially high. Stress can also temporarily raise values.
Many grocery stores and pharmacies also have access to blood pressure monitoring stations so you can take a quick reading while you’re out running errands.
Writing down readings in a logbook or storing them in a health app is another valuable way of tracking these metrics over time which gives you the best look into possible trends and changes.
What blood pressure values should you be looking for?
|Blood Pressure Range
Systolic mm Hg
Diastolic mm Hg
|Less than 120
|Less than 80
|120 – 129
|Less than 80
|High Blood Pressure
|Blood Pressure CRISIS
Get HELP NOW
|Higher than 180
|Higher than 120
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
This metric is really only available to someone who wears a heart rate monitor all day (which have their own issues in terms of accuracy) or is working with a cardiologist. However, since many people have a wearable that tracks heart rate 24/7 I want to mention it.
Heart rate variability means the time in between beats of the heart which varies. How much variation there is in between heart beats can alert you to things such as heart issues and even mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.
The goal is to have an HRV that is in the middle ground – not too high, not too low and this value is very personal. Because having an HRV in the optimal range can be a sign of overall good health and physical/mental adaptability and resilience, it’s best to work with a healthcare provider to figure out your optimal range.
Another very important way of tracking health over time is to do at least annual blood work. Annual wellness visits themselves are 100% covered for those with insurance and are a great way of establishing care and connection with a Primary Care Provider. Lab tests, however, may or may not be covered so definitely check with your insurance company prior to meeting with your doctor so you can understand your possible costs.
Another avenue to receiving this information (blood test results) is using a direct to consumer lab. Both Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp offer personal wellness labs that can be purchased directly from them – no doctor visit required.
For those with high-deductible plans, this might be a more affordable way of checking to see how your body is doing with these basic tests and then you can use the covered wellness visit to discuss the results and review other health metrics with your Primacy Care Provider. Doing the testing first could potentially save you a follow-up visit, assuming that the Provider doesn’t have other lab tests that they may order.
What are Some Standard, Basic Health Labs?
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) – A test that covers a variety of values and gives a broader picture of overall health.
- Lipid Panel – Checks for cholesterol and other fats that can impact cardiovascular health
- Thyroid Function Panel – A valuable way to see how your body is making key hormones necessary for a variety of functions.
- Nutritional Testing – Vitamin D, Folate, B12, Iron Panel, Vitamin A, etc. all give you an insight into how your body is absorbing key minerals.
- Hemoglobin A1C (hA1C) – Screens for diabetes
Mental Health Metrics
Mental Health and Physical Health are very closely linked to one another. Emotions can absolutely cause increased tension in the body, increased heart rate, and release stress hormones. It’s important to look at health holistically and appreciate how our thoughts and emotions can impact our body.
Signs of Good Mental Health
- Able to express a wide variety of emotions and transition between them without getting stuck in any one emotional state
- Have tools to process and evaluate emotions
- Able to rebound quickly after stressful events including change and uncertainty
- Form and maintain healthy relationships with others
- Sleep well and wake ready to start the day
- No signs of anxiety or depression
See Better Understand Your Emotions in 5 Steps to learn more about emotions and their intelligence.
If you feel at all in need of someone to talk to, the Suicide Prevention Line can help. While they are specifically trained for intervening in crisis, if you are overcome with feelings and need help they are there to support you. To talk to a trained professional, CALL 1-800-273-8255.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post and I’ve shared a lot of information. None of the information shared here should be a replacement for medical care with a licensed provider. If anything, I hope it shows just how complex health monitoring can be and how important it is to work with a Primary Care Provider with whom you can develop a positive and productive relationship.
Another thing I’d like to highlight is how important long-term health monitoring is to overall health. Tracking health metrics over time especially when you are healthy is the BEST way of proactively caring for your health.
I often get told by clients – “Well I don’t have to see the doctor, I’m healthy as a horse.”
That is the BEST time to see a Primary Care Provider because then you can establish your healthy baseline. It will be the metrics by which any changes can be compared.
For more information about see How to Get the Most Out of Your Primary Care Doctor’s Visit.