Monday, August 1, 2016

What Is Healthy?

In my capacity as a fitness coach I’m often told “I don’t want to be able to run a marathon/climb Kilimanjaro/deadlift a small car... I just want to be healthy”. The problem with this can be in identifying an individual's specific definition of “healthy”. Often, the perception is embodied by a certain look or body-type; but this aesthetically-based standard may actually hide potential health issues. That said – while a blood test may come up with no discernible risks currently, this does not mean that a) there aren’t other issues that show up outside of these tests, or b) that problems are at a higher likelihood of occurring if some sort of intervention isn’t initiated.

There are a few general markers that can be used to measure if an individual is, relative to the rest of the population, “healthy”. They are by no means all encompassing, and passing all of them is not a guarantee of invincibility – however, for each one that falls outside the “healthy” marker, health risks increase and resiliency may be impacted.

What follows is a list of a few good starting points. Many (though not all) of them need to be measured by or through your doctor, so the upside is that if any of these things raise a red flag they will be made aware of it and will help you investigate further if they feel it’s necessary. Furthermore, keep in mind that these should be evaluated as part of an overall picture by a health professional – use each as a launching pad for further enquiry, but don’t become too fixated on a single one in isolation.

Resting Heart Rate
For the truest measure of a resting heart rate, take it on first waking up. It should be somewhere below 65 beats per minute.

Waist to Hip Ratio
Weight is a poor indicator of health, as so many elements can determine what someone weighs including how much muscle one carries on their frame (muscle is much denser than fat). A better measure, in that it adapts to various body structures within each gender, is the waist-to-hip ratio (with waist being measured at the smallest part of the waist, generally above the iliac crest and slightly higher than the navel, and hips being measured at their widest point). Men are looking for a ratio of < 0.90, women <0.80.

Blood Pressure
The standard measure that is considered healthy is 120/80. However, it should be measured a few times, and at different times of day with an average being taken afterwards – it can fluctuate based on external factors and stimulus, including (but not limited to) time of day and stress.

The generally agreed upon standard for cholesterol is </= 5.2 mmol/L for total cholesterol, with </= 2.6 mmol/L of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) in individuals free of heart disease and/or diabetes.

Blood Sugar
Standard is </= 3.9 mmol/L after fasting (not eating) for 8-12hrs prior to the test.

Remember, this is far from an exhaustive list, with generalized numbers intended to give you a range. Individual results and concerns should be discussed further with your doctor, since everyone will have variances and your family physician will have specific insight to better help interpret the results.


  5. Bray GA & Gray DS (1988) Obesity, Part I - Pathogenis, Western Journal of Medicine. 149; 429-441

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