Posted on Tuesday 25th of September 2018 at 11:29 AM
People count everything from calories to steps. But there is one measurement that's constantly counted, addressed, and criticized when it comes to health — a person's weight.
Because of the emphasis placed on this figure, people tend to think it's the only one that matters when it comes to your health. And it's not. Your wellbeing actually comes down to a few different measures that registered dietitian Malina Linkas Malkani, creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle, calls biomarkers.
"Following all of the health biomarkers [...] can help determine whether clients are making progress and reaching their nutritional goals," she told INSIDER.
Instead of hopping on the scale, you can count a few other aspects of your daily life to better measure your health. Here are nine to know about.
1. Waist circumference
Both Malkani and Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a physician and health and wellness expert, measure waist circumference in order to look at the big picture of someone's health. Okeke-Igbokwe told INSIDER that this number is helpful in assessing the risk of other serious health conditions like stroke, sleep apnea, and heart disease.
Malkani also explained that this measurement can tell her more about a patient's potential disease risk than weight.
"Waist circumference is an indicator of visceral (or 'belly') fat, which is the fat that surrounds the internal organs," Malkani said. "Visceral fat is a much more accurate predictor of obesity-related disease risk than overall body fat."
2. Glasses of water
Malkani prioritizes hydration for her clients, and is concerned that people don't know how much water their body needs.
"Staying hydrated is also essential for our overall health and wellness, although it's a common misconception that everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water per day," she said. "A lot of factors go into how much water an individual needs to stay hydrated, like age, gender, activity level and climate, so rather than give my clients a number of cups they should aim for per day, I recommend that they check their urine."
She said the "goal" is to have a pale yellow color or lighter; anything darker is a good indicator that you aren't drinking enough water.
3. Blood pressure
Okeke-Igbokwe said your blood pressure is another number you should pay close attention to and try to control to maintain your overall health.
"When hypertension is uncontrolled, one very serious complication that may arise is atherosclerosis," she said. "Essentially, very high blood pressure may contribute to the damage of important vessels in your body."
High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and is known as the "silent killer" because it may not have obvious symptoms, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Although you don't necessarily have to check your own blood pressure on a daily basis, it's crucial to maintain blood pressure within the range of normal. The AHA recommends that people over age 20 with normal blood pressure get it checked every one to two years. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor might recommend a different schedule.
4. Vegetables eaten
When it comes to diet, Malkani looks at the number of fruits and vegetables a person eats each day, as well as the average number of servings of processed foods and high-glycemic foods. According to Harvard Medical School, high-glycemic foods cause quick spikes in blood sugar. Some research suggests that high-glycemic diets may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes or heart disease, while low-glycemic diets diet may help maintain weight loss.
Malkani stressed that eating a greater variety of produce will give you the most bang for your buck, nutritionally. In fact, the Victoria State Government of Australia wrote that the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their colors each have their own health benefits. So eating a wide variety of foods and colors is good for you.
"As a general rule, the more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat per day — particularly non-starchy vegetables— the better for your overall health and wellness, because fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, meaning that per calorie, they provide many healthy micronutrients like vitamins and minerals," she explained.
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommending filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal.
5. Cholesterol levels
Okeke-Igbokwe doesn't want you to ignore your cholesterol either. Speaking to your doctor about this is highly recommended.
"There is clinical significance in knowing what your 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol levels are," she said. "In general, by the time you are about 20, your cholesterol levels should be checked by your physician at least every five years."
If you have other risks, this number might need to be checked on a more frequent basis, according to Okeke-Igbokwe. She reported that this figure could also indicate a high-risk factor for heart disease.
6. Blood sugar level
The fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) measures the amount of glucose in your blood — a.k.a. your blood sugar — after fasting for eight hours. It's one way doctors test for diabetes.
Normally, whenever you eat, your blood sugar rises. Your cells can take that sugar out of the bloodstream and use it for energy, but only with the help of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. In diabetes, the body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use it effectively, and too much sugar is left in the blood, according to the AHA. Over time, this can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.
An FPG result lower than 100 milligrams per deciliter is considered normal, and readings higher than that indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website explains.
People with normal glucose levels should get tested about every three years, according to the AHA. Those who are overweight or have certain diabetes risk factors may need to be tested more often, however — ask your doctor what's best for you.
7. Time spent moving
Physical activity is crucial to maintaining strong bones, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, and improving your mood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
If counting steps motivates you to move more than the thought of going to the gym, then great. You should enjoy whatever exercise you do, and Okeke-Igbokwe suggested incorporating some form of physical activity into your daily routine.
"Studies have found a link between exercising at least 30 minutes per day with a reduction in the risk of early death," she said. "When it comes to exercise and physical activity, the goal should really be to remain active as much as possible to really gain some heightened health benefits."
As for how many steps you should take, she said that the number varies depending on your level of physical activity, but a good sign is if the amount you take allows you to break a sweat.
8. Alcoholic drinks consume
Drinking too much alcohol harms your health. How much is too much? There's a definitive guide for that.
In the US, a standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, according to the CDC. And "excessive" drinking is defined as:
Most people know that excessive drinking can cause short-term problems like injuries, alcohol poisoning, and risky sexual behavior, according to the CDC. But over time, it can also lead to the development of certain cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, memory and cognition problems, mental health issues, and alcohol dependence, the agency's website adds.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that, if you do drink alcohol, you should drink it moderately. That means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. And if you don't drink now, the Guidelines add, t here's no reason to start.
9. Hours spent sleeping
Okeke-Igbokwe recommended people aim for eight to nine hours every night. The National Sleep Foundation, however, recommends seven to nine for adults over 18.
"If you are able to achieve this amount of sleep you lower your risk of several chronic medical conditions," Okeke-Igbokwe said. "Sleep deprivation has been linked to hypertension, diabetes, and even heart disease."
Newer research continues to link sleep debt to heart health problems. In one study, lack of sleep raised the risk of heart attack and stroke by the same amount that smoking does.
Health professionals look at a combination of biomarkers to get a greater insight into someone's overall health. There are almost too many to count, which shows how problematic it can be to place so much emphasis on the scale alone. That said, you shouldn't stress-count another specific biomarker. Instead, know that they all can help you weave your way to a healthier lifestyle.
This article first appeared on Insider. Click here to read the original article.