Healthy Living: Steps to Take Stock of Your Health

Whether you're hoping to get stronger, lose weight, or lower your odds of disease -- or all of the above -- you ought to take a moment to establish your baseline. You won't be able to track your progress unless you know where you're starting from.

Before you dive in, take a look at these measurements and circumstances. They'll help you get a handle on your current health status so you can confidently move forward knowing what's what.

Weight and Waist

What the scale says is hardly the only thing that matters when it comes to being healthy, but it gives important clues about your risk for many conditions, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and much more.

To figure out if your weight is in the healthy zone (or how much change is in order), step on the scale. Then use a calculator to find your BMI (body mass index), which takes into account your height as well as your weight: 150 pounds means something very different on someone who's over 6 feet tall vs. barely 5 feet. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered "normal."

Next, grab a tape measure. Even if your BMI is normal, extra fat around your midsection (abdominal obesity) means you're more likely to get type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A healthy waist circumference for a man is 40 inches or less; for women, it's no more than 35 inches.

Blood Numbers

If you don't know your cholesterol (including the breakdown of LDL and HDL), blood pressure, and blood sugar, it's time to see your doctor. Generally speaking, for a healthy adult they should be:

  • Blood pressure: less than 120/80
  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
  • Fasting blood glucose (or blood sugar): less than 100 mg/dL

Your doctor may have different target numbers for you depending on your current medical situation and any lifelong conditions you have.

Exercise

While any activity you do is better than nothing, guidelines suggest that most adults aim for at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity activity each week.

If you tend to rack up your exercise in small spurts rather than a long workout at the gym, that's OK, but consider wearing a pedometer for a week so you can get a better sense of your typical activity level. Many experts recommend at least 10,000 steps per day, which is about 5 miles.

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Diet

Those little bites -- the leftovers you swipe from your child's plate, or an extra doughnut at your weekly meeting -- are easy to forget. Yet over time they can add up.

To make sure you're paying close enough attention to what's going into your mouth, spend at least a few days recording every single morsel. You can use a smartphone app, or a simple pad and pen will work. Be as specific as possible, logging how much ("20 baked potato chips with ranch dip," not just "potato chips") and when. You could also add notes about what you were doing, where you were, who you were with, or how you were feeling to help you see patterns.

While you're at it, don't forget about what you're sipping. Sugary soft drinks and energy drinks are a major source of empty calories (with few or no nutrients) and can lead to obesity.

But don't go thirsty: Most adults need about 8 cups of water a day to stay well-hydrated. If you have trouble drinking enough, track water (even though it's calorie-free) in your food diary as well.

Don't forget about alcohol, either. Women who drink should have no more than one drink per day. For men, it's two max.

Sleep

Most adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night, though everyone is different. If you feel sleepy while driving or doing other daily tasks, or if you need to rely on caffeine to power you through the day, you may not be getting enough.

Tracking your sleep is a good first step. Devices and apps may give you more data than a log or journal.

Mood

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and the two often go hand-in-hand. Poor mental health can sap your energy and focus and even raise your chance of heart disease.

Can't figure out how to remedy feeling stressed, down, or overwhelmed? It may be time to reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Partners

You should have a doctor who you feel comfortable seeing for checkups and contacting whenever you have a specific concern about your health. If you don't, make finding one a priority. Your primary care provider should help keep you up-to-date on important vaccines and screening tests like cholesterol checks, mammograms, and colonoscopies, too.

You may also need to see one or more specialists -- perhaps an endocrinologist, cardiologist, or allergist -- regularly for long-term, ongoing health issues.

Social support is another key. You're more likely to stay motivated and on track when you have friends and family who share, or maybe just encourage, your goals.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 18, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Assessing Your Weight."

Harvard Health Publishing: "6 Numbers You Absolutely Need to Know," "Mind & Mood."

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

MOVE! Weight Management Program for Veterans. "A Guide to Using Your Pedometer," S03, version 5.0, US Department of Veterans Affairs.

FamilyDoctor.org: "Nutrition: Keeping a Food Diary."

MHealthy Nutrition and Weight Management Program. "Empty Calories," University of Michigan, 2011.

American Cancer Society: "5 Healthy Habits May Help You Live More Than 10 Years Longer."

National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?"

Mayo Clinic Health System: "The importance of a primary care provider."

Mayo Clinic: "Ask For Support to Achieve Your Health Goals."

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