This is the second part in a two-part series. You can read Part 1 HERE! In Part 1, I listed ten food-related items that might help you get a better idea of how healthy your diet is than simply counting calories.
In this part, I want to acknowledge that our health is impacted by SO MUCH MORE than what we eat (I wrote about this HERE, so go check it out!). The fact is, for some people, counting calories is not the healthiest or most productive use of time. And for others, the things that really boost wellbeing might have very little to do with what they eat for lunch or dinner.
So here is my in-no-particular-order list of non-food things to count (or track) as you travel along your healthy happy journey:
Your health numbers
I will be writing a whole post on this soon, but for now here is my list of health numbers that are well worth tracking:
Your body composition, waist measurement or waist:height ratio: I wrote about this HERE and I highly recommend you check it out. In a nutshell, these measurements can give you an idea of how much visceral adipose tissue (VAT) you are carrying. VAT accumulates around our mid-section and in amongst our vital organs. It is also known as toxic fat due to its strong association with type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, inflammation and even cancer.
Your blood pressure numbers: I wrote about this HERE! Your BP number is a strong predictor of your likely risk of heart attack and stroke. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it is vitally important that you take the initiative and get your BP checked regularly!
Your resting heart rate: Your resting heart rate is the number of times your hear beats per minute when you are “at rest” (ie, not engaged in physical activity). It can give you an indication of your cardiovascular health and fitness. A resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute is considered “normal”, but a lower rate indicates greater cardiovascular health and fitness.
Your blood lipids: Blood lipid tests look at the levels of total cholesterol, LDL (aka “lousy” bad cholesterol, HDL )”healthy” good cholesterol) and triglycerides in your blood. If you have high levels of LDL and triglycerides, you may be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and it would be a good idea to make some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Your fasting blood sugar levels: Type 2 diabetes is at pandemic proportions in the developed world. And many people are not even aware that they have it. My father was an undiagnosed type 2 diabetic for many years - he wasn’t diagnosed until his eyesight was permanently impaired. So I believe EVERYONE should have their fasting blood sugar tested regularly! And for bonus points, ask your doctor if s/he thinks it might be a good idea for you to have an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). An OGTT will show how your blood sugar and insulin changes in response to food. It can show if you have a healthy blood-sugar and insulin response or if you are insulin resistant.
They say sitting is the new smoking. And the research confirms that too much unbroken sedentary time can indeed impact our metabolic and cardiac health and even our longevity!
So I highly recommend keeping track of how many hours we spend sitting each day, and the length of our “unbroken” periods of sitting. Once you have tracked this, you can start to plan some ways to “break up” your sitting time. I wrote about this HERE - go check it out!
Intentional healthy movement: aka Exercise!
There are no two ways about it - regular physical activity is one of the most powerful things to boost your health, wellbeing and longevity.
Regular physical activity is linked to a long list of health benefits including healthy weight maintenance, improved blood pressure, blood lipids and reduced cardiovascular risk , improved glycemic response and reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes, reduced cancer risk (particularly breast and colon cancer), bone density, improved mood and longer, more active lifespan!
So I HIGHLY recommend you track your intentional healthy movement every day. And for bonus points track your exercise against the Australian Government’s exercise recommendations:
Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
I wrote about the health benefits of exercise, and my top tips to help you create and maintain a healthy movement habit HERE!
Incidental movement (aka incidental exercise) is the unsung hero of public health and lifestyle medicine!
So what is it? It’s basically anything that you do that involves moving around, and includes walking up the stairs, vacuuming, cleaning your house, gardening, doing the weekly grocery shopping, walking to the bus stop and even doing a lap or two of your local shopping mall!
People who move more as a normal part of their day-to-day lives have been shown to enjoy better health and longer lives than their sedentary counterparts.
So don’t forget to track these small, seemingly-insignificant amounts of activity too - because they count! My husband’s workplace is set out over several different buildings on a huge block of land. He and everyone he works with clock up an impressive amount of steps every day just going about their daily work life. How awesome is that!
Hours of sleep
Sleep is essential for good physical, mental and emotional health. Countless studies support the importance of sleep for activation and support of our body’s restorative processes, and its protective effect in relation to our immune system, brain and memory function, emotional regulation and much more.
Organisations like the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend we get at least 7 hours of sleep on a consistent basis, but individual needs to vary according to age, habits, lifestyle, genetics and environment.
But studies consistently show that we are not getting enough hours of sleep, and that our sleep quality is lower than it was in decades past. It’s no exaggeration to state that sleep deprivation is at pandemic levels.
So I STRONGLY recommend that EVERYONE starts paying attention to their sleep. To start with I recommend tracking when you go to bed and when you wake up, to make sure you are actually “putting in the hours”! The next step is to assess your sleep quality by assessing how you feel when you wake up and throughout the day, or via a sleep tracker (or even a sleep study referred by your doctor!).
There are LOTS of things you can do to improve poor quality sleep. I wrote ALL about sleep in a three part series on this blog. Check out Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 (which gives lots of awesome tips for improving sleep) HERE!
Minutes spent on meditation, mindfulness - or your preferred de-stresser each day
In my “other job”, I work with high-performing, highly-stressed professionals. And I have seen how building in hard-and-fast, non-negotiable windows of decompression and detachment (the technical term in the peer-reviewed literature) can make a huge difference in both wellbeing and professional performance. But it doesn’t matter what you do in today’s world, we all NEED to take deliberate, conscious steps to de-stress and decompress.
Mindfulness meditation can be an amazing way for some people to de-stress, but not everyone is suited to it. Studies show exercise can be an excellent de-stressor, especially if you get out in nature. But it’s important to do some experimentation and discover what rests and replenishes you. And then make sure you are doing what you need to do to de-stress and decompress every day.
I think of my stress-reduction activities as “book ends” for my day. I like to start the day with a brief mindfulness practice, and end my day with some outdoor exercise.
Ironically, when things get busy, hectic and stressful, our self-care practices are often among the first things to be pushed aside. So it’s a great idea to track how much time you are spending on “decompression” activities each day.
Gratitude is good for you! An impressive and growing body of research supports the beneficial effects on our emotional and physical health of taking a few minutes each day to contemplate and savour the things - large and small - that we are grateful for. In addition to a gratitude list, I recommend taking a moment to savour life’s small sweet moments. I like to write these down or collect mementos to remind me how wonderful life can be if we pay just a little more attention. I wrote about this HERE. And I created a FREE PRINTABLE GRATITUDE LIST for mailing list members, so sign up to my mailing list for your copy and access to my entire resources library!
The people you KNOW you can count on
I’m not talking frenemies here. In fact, ambivalent friendships (that’s the proper psychological term for frenemies!) have been found to be more draining on our health and wellbeing than people who openly dislike us!
I’m talking about those special gems of human beings - whether friends or family - that are truly in your corner, come what may.
Studies repeatedly show that these relationships are incredibly important for our mental health, our physical health and even our longevity.
Now I don’t recommend tracking this on a daily or even monthly basis. But I DO think it is very worthwhile making note of who are the people you can truly count on - in good times and bad. Once you have this list of special people, you can prioritise your time and energy to make sure they get enough of your attention to know how very special they are to you! I wrote about this HERE, HERE and HERE.