Most dieters know all about the Body-Mass Index (or BMI). This useful measurement is said to be far more effective than merely tracking your weight at any one time; instead, the BMI encourages dieters to record their weight alongside their height, gender and age to get a “score” that more truly reflects whether that weight is healthy or unhealthy.
Whilst useful to a point, the Body-Mass Index has its detractors. Perhaps the best criticism is to look at how the scale clearly fails those in certain circumstances – a muscly (and heavy) bodybuilder would likely receive a BMI score that indicates obesity when that is clearly not the case! Our general obsession with weight could also lead some to assume that a healthy BMI score is the key to good overall health, which is unfortunately not always the case either.
Below, we take a look at some of the indicators of overall health that are not revealed by your BMI score and look at the things that you might be able to do to improve on each one!
Looking after your heart has never been more important – around a quarter of all deaths in the USA are related to heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in most of the developed world. Those who suffer a heart attack or heart-related illness and survive are often left with a weakened heart, which can affect their ability to stay active.
Although heart health and weight-related issues are linked, there are many factors that negatively impact heart health in otherwise slim people. Poor diet can contribute to heart problems, such as by raising the levels of cholesterol in the body, and physical inactivity can also cause the heart to be less strong as a muscle. Excessive alcohol or tobacco use can also lead to higher blood pressure, cardiomyopathy and other heart illnesses.
One really useful way to stay on top of your heart health is simply to remain aware of how well you’re doing. Easy methods include checking your blood pressure at your local GP, or checking your resting heart rate (which should be around 70 beats per minute or less for an active and healthy person).
Looking after your heart is complex, and often means avoiding all of life’s vices (such as smoking or alcohol), at least to excess. Keep an eye out for heart-healthy foods (such as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish or eggs) and avoid saturated or trans fats. Keeping fit will also be key…
We’ve just shown how important keeping fit is for heart health, but it can actually impact your life in so many ways. A fit and healthy body will help you to avoid illnesses in general, and will open up opportunities for fun and interesting activities that are otherwise closed off (everything from cycling to surfing is easier if you’re physically fit). Physical fitness also helps older people retain their independence and stave off the risk of injury in everyday life.
A fit and healthy body also massively increases your lifespan; the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 7 hours of physical activity per week reduces your risk of dying early by a whopping 40%. At the very least, weaker hearts, lungs and muscles attract higher medical bills throughout an average lifespan, as unfit people are likelier to encounter dozens of big and small issues over time.
Keeping fit doesn’t have to mean a major lifestyle change; many studies have found that doing exercise for around 15 minutes daily reduces several major risks alone. Many free programs on the Internet can show you how to engage in simple bodyweight training routines in your own home (try out the excellent https://darebee.com/). There are also several engaging classes and activities around, from yoga to jazzercize to boxing – the possibilities are endless!
It’s also a great idea to keep a check on your physical fitness. After all, your BMI tells us nothing in this regard – you may be enviably thin, but if you struggle to walk up a flight of stairs without heavy panting then you must still consider hitting the gym now and then! We recommend this great guide that sets out a few basic fitness tests to try out: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/fitness/art-20046433.
Stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing – for some, a little stress and pressure every now and then actually brings out the best in terms of performance. Despite this, long-term chronic stress is a serious threat to overall health and should never be allowed to continue forever.
Stress is a natural and survival-based reaction, and it actually has several direct impacts on the body. General distress (brought out by job pressures or family problems etc.) has actually been found to increase the risk of coronary problems, and one 2007 study from the interestingly-named “Journal of Pain” has even found that stressful, negative thoughts can exacerbate migraines and headaches. Psychologically, stress can obviously do some serious damage, causing fatigue through lack of sleep, irritability with friends and family, and problems concentrating.
Stress is a rather more abstract thing to manage than some of the other items on this list. The American Psychological Association recommends firstly identifying the cause of stress in your own life, by writing down the moments in which you feel the most stressed throughout the day. To reduce the impact of those moments, it’s then important to build a strong supportive network, and try new techniques to manage the difficult situation (perhaps by walking away from anger-filled conflicts, or by making time for fun activities to counteract the negativity). Last but not least, one major way of tackling stress is to ensure that the mind is properly rested with 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Which brings us to…
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for good health, and not just as a means of controlling stress. A good night’s rest helps the brain to function more effectively the next day, helping children to learn more effectively at school and helping adults perform better at home or work. Conversely, poor sleeping patterns inhibit problem-solving skills and the ability to concentrate. A lack of sleep can also take an emotional toll, and has been linked to depression, poor relationship building and mood swings. In chronic cases, sleep deficiency can actually cause otherwise healthy people to “blank out” throughout the day, causing them to miss out on important information in a conversation or doze off whilst driving.
It’s also thought that sleep deprivation affects the way our bodies function. Poor sleeping patterns have been linked with organ disease, diabetes and obesity. There is evidence showing that a lack of sleep weakens the body’s immune system, making sickness more likely and more severe. Children are most at risk, as a lack of sleep has also been shown to slow the progress of puberty and normal growth and development.
There are lots of techniques out there to help with sleeping. One of the most important tricks is to try to ensure that sleep is as regular as possible, meaning that you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every night. It’s also useful to ensure that you get roughly 7-8 hours of sleep per night, in order to be truly rested.
What if the environment is the problem? Make sure that you’re settled in an area that’s comfortable to rest in. Consider trying out earplugs, facemasks or darker curtains if you need to, and try to avoid sleeping on an empty stomach or with an overly full stomach. Many of the techniques we’re discussed throughout this list may also help too; several studies suggest that actively managing stress or getting plenty of exercise should also help to regulate sleep as well!
By far the least important set of issues on this list, but digestion problems can still be annoying. Millions of people deal regularly with repeated bouts of bloating, unusually frequent gas, heartburn or diarrhoea. Stomach issues can result in stomach pain or even the severe problem of ulcers, whilst issues restricted to the intestines may cause constipation or otherwise irregular bathroom visits.
Severe digestive issues may actually result in conditions that require hospitalisation. If frequently experiencing diarrhoea or irregular bathroom visits, some may actually find themselves becoming dehydrated or failing to absorb the nutrients from their food properly, which could lead onto other issues.
A whole cottage industry has sprung up to help people manage their digestive systems, making it easier than ever to resolve issues. The easiest and most important way to maintain good gut health is simply to eat more sensibly, sticking to whole foods rather than processed junk. Readers may want to pay special attention to fibre, which adds bulk to stools and feeds the friendly bacteria lining the gut (around 25-30g of fibre a day is considered appropriate).
Prebiotic and probiotic supplements and foodstuffs can also help to replenish and supply the “healthy” bacteria working in the gut, which ensures that processes happen as they should do.
Establishing whether you’re having any digestive issues is also relatively simple. People can check their stools against a chart to see if they’re within the healthy range (check references like https://www.gutsense.org/constipation/normal_stools.html to try for yourself!). The colour of your stools are also an indicator of digestive health, as you can see from the following infographic:
In the same way, it is also possible to tell if someone is dehydrated by looking at their urine – a dark yellow-coloured urine usually indicates that the person is not drinking enough water and a relatively clear urine indicates the opposite. Remember that staying hydrated is often just as important as any of the foods you put into your body!
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.