Thursday, 8 September 2011

The measure of success

How do you measure the success of your diet or your fitness plan or even how healthy your lifestyle is? Is it weight? Dress size? BMI maybe? Well what about resting heart rate or blood pressure or even fun?
From a poll of people that I questioned, 60% used weight as the measure of their success and 75% used dress size or the fitting of their clothes. No one used fun or enjoyment of what they were doing, no one used resting heart rate and only 5% used blood pressure. When I asked people why they use dress size or weight and not some of the other measures, they told me that these were the ones that are easiest measured, it makes sense; everyone can stand on something, look at a number and see if it’s gone up or down since the last time they stood there or if their jeans are a little tighter than the last time they wore them. They also said that they do not really understand what some of the others were or how to measure them.
Is there an issue with using weight and dress size/fitting of clothes as how we measure how well our diet or fitness plan is? One of the problems with using weight is that your weight fluctuates on an hourly basis due to movement of fluid. If you were to weigh yourself before you went to bed and then as soon as you woke up, you would see a difference of a few pounds (which is why if you do weigh yourself you should limit it to about once a week). The other problem with just using weight is how easy it is to shift weight to begin with but then how difficult it can become. I’ve described in another post how you initial lose water and then fat and muscle. Once your weight lose starts to slow down it can be disheartening and it’s at that point that people tend to change to another diet or another fitness plan. Weight is not something that should be ignored, it is important to monitor, but not too often and in line with other measures.
I’m not going to say too much about clothes size. Only that, why not go a little further and take actual body measurements? Hips, arms, thigh, chest, calves, anything that you can get a tape measure around. This way, even if your weight has started to level off, you might still see that you’re slimming down.
So weight and dress size taken care of. What about some other things we can use to measure how healthy we are/ how well our diet is working. Do you think we should take a look at our heart, see how the little ticker is getting on? Resting heart rate and blood pressure are easy ways to check out the health of our heart. Without putting on too much of a biology lesson, the more your heart works, the bigger it gets (like any other muscle). Then once it’s bigger on the inside, it can fill up with more of that fantastic red stuff than it used to, so it doesn’t have to beat as quickly. So, the slower your resting heart rate, the bigger your heart is. Don’t know how to measure your resting heart rate? Take a look at this  . What about blood pressure? When your heart beats, it pumps blood round your body to give it the energy and oxygen it needs, keeping the inside of you happy. As the blood moves, it pushes against the sides of the blood vessels. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your arteries (and your heart) and this may lead to heart attacks and strokes (which is a bad thing). Finding your blood pressure is not as simple as finding your resting heart rate. First of all, it needs what is possibly the most difficult thing to pronounce ever, a sphygmomanometer (just as hard to spell as it is to say).  The easiest thing is to go to your doctor who can take your blood pressure, if you want to do it yourself though, check out this website. It’s got lots of information about blood pressure and how to measure it yourself.
Resting heart rate and blood pressure are just two more ways you can check how well you are getting on in getting a little fitter and a little healthier. It’s important to use quite a lot of ways because our body is complex. Your diet and training affects a lot of things and so just because you’ve stopped losing weight or you’re not getting as thin as quickly as you were, does not mean what you are doing is not working. Measuring lots of things means that what you are doing is being better assessed. Just because you have stopped losing weight does not mean what you are doing is not working. But, if you measure lots of thing and none of them are showing signs of improvement, chances are something needs changing.
The last thing that you should use to measure your success is fun and enjoyment. If you don’t like what you’re doing, don’t do it. There is no point putting yourself through things you don’t enjoy just to get fit or lose weight. There are lots of ways to get fit and lots of tasty healthy foods. If running and green salads sounds like living hell to you, find something else. Things may not be fun all the time, but they should be most of the time. Just a word of warning though, fun does not necessarily mean easy. Like my old French teacher used to say, if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing.....hey, I just got that.
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