There are many ways of measuring fitness beyond the number on your scale. Exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose fat, build muscle, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, increase your stamina and reduce stress. The first step to better health begins with reviewing your current measurements and setting realistic fitness goals.
Weight management is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and usually the first fitness goal people target. You may want to lose ten or twenty pounds, but how do you know that’s the best goal for your health? Instead of watching the scale alone, you will get better results by tracking inches and your body mass index (BMI).
Your weight alone is not a good measure of your body composition because it doesn’t tell you how much fat or muscle you have. A lean, athletic body is usually healthier than a body with a higher percentage of fat, even if both people are the same weight. Health experts are now targeting waist circumference as an important measure of health. A healthy waist measurement (around the navel) should be under 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women.
You can also calculate your body fat based on your height and weight (BMI). Doctors use BMI to decide if you are underweight, overweight or at a healthy weight. You can find your BMI by using online tools, like the BMI calculator from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, or checking your height and weight against standard BMI charts. Some digital scales also report your BMI along with your weight.
Beyond body composition, you can set fitness goals based on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Talk to your doctor about your total cholesterol profile, including LDL, HDL and triglycerides. A total cholesterol level under 200 is generally desirable, but the ratio of LDL to HDL is also important. Typical goals include an LDL level of less than 100, an HDL level of over 60 and triglycerides under 150. However, your doctor can help you set personal goals and learn how to reach them with diet and exercise.
Checking your blood pressure lets you know the force of the blood pumping through your arteries. Over time, high blood pressure can damage your body and put you at risk for a heart attack, stroke or other complication. Regular exercise can lower your blood pressure, so bringing down those numbers are a great fitness goal. It's generally best to have a systolic pressure less than 120 and a diastolic pressure under 80 (e.g. 120/80 mmHg), although you should talk to your doctor to set the goal that is right for you.
Additional fitness goals may be more specific, such as being able to perform a set number of push-ups, walk a set distance in 30 minutes, or be flexible enough to touch your toes. Your goals may also be subjective, such as assessing your mood, stress level and ability to get a good night’s sleep. There are many different ways to define fitness and you’ll find more success with your exercise routine if you choose personal goals that are specific to your health needs and track more than your weight alone.