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Better Ways to Measure Health Than Stepping on a Scale

woman's legs standing in front of weight scales hesitating to step on
Kekyalyaynen/Shutterstock

The scale isn’t the best judge of what’s going on with your whole body because even when you’re losing fat, you could be gaining muscle. Here are some other ways to see if your health is heading in the right direction.

If your scale’s numbers are declining, you feel proud—it’s proof that all your hard work has paid off. But what if you’re eating healthy, working out, doing everything right, and those numbers aren’t budging? Or worse, they’re going up!

Here are some alternative ways to see if your health is heading in the right direction, without stepping on the scale once. 

Weekly Photos

If your goal is a toned, fit body (who doesn’t want that?), then take weekly selfies. Start with an outfit that feels snug. As the weeks go by, you should notice this outfit becoming looser, even if the scale numbers don’t change. Switch to a snugger outfit and keep going! Try standing in the same position each week, so you can best capture the change.

Different Kinds of Fat

Scales can’t discern between fat and muscle. So if you end up weighing more, even though you’re working out like an Olympic athlete, don’t worry. Your body fat percentage paints a broader picture of what’s going on. Use this calculator to enter in your waist, hip, forearm, and wrist circumferences. It’ll give you a term based on your final percentage, such as athlete, fitness, acceptable, or obese.

Visceral fat, also known as “belly” fat, is the deep fat that surrounds the internal organs. Although there are instances where thin people have dangerous levels of visceral fat, most often high levels push your stomach outwards into an unattractive beer belly. Knowing your waist circumference can help you understand certain health risks associated with visceral fat, such as insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, and more. Having a toned belly isn’t just about looking hot—it’s about prolonging your health. 

Skin Quality

Looking at your skin to determine if you’re healthy? It might not be as crazy as it sounds.

Many diseases and ailments can be identified by skin quality or rashes, such as liver diseases, hypothyroidism, diabetes, lymphoma, and more. When you’ve been immersed in weeks of regular exercise and eating a plant-rich diet, your skin will glow. Use that as a sign that you’re on the right track.

How Many Vegetables and Fruits Are on Your Plate?

assorted raw vegetables
monticello/Shutterstock

A sure way to measure your current health is to look at your plate. Is at least half of it dedicated to vegetables and fruits, at every meal? If not, it’s time to step up your game.

You can also try eating fruit and veggies first, before your main meal. Order salad as an appetizer, or munch on chopped up vegetables while preparing your dinner. Craving dessert? Try a bowl of fruit first (add in a bit of unsweetened Greek yogurt to take it to the next level).

When planning meals, many of us think of the meat first, then the carbs, and then what veggies we can have on the side. Try reversing that, instead.

Other Important Numbers

We’re so obsessed with the number on the scale that we fail to keep up with other significant numbers. Take stock of the following levels, making sure they are within range, seeking health advice if they are problematic.

  • Cholesterol levels: Can indicate high-risk for heart disease.
  • Blood sugar levels: Can lead to energy level drops, and diabetes.
  • Blood pressure: The American Heart Association (AHA) states that high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. It’s often referred to as a “silent killer” since there aren’t usually noticeable symptoms.

Important: Obviously, these are numbers that you’ll need to visit your doctor to measure and help regulate. If you haven’t been in for a physical or a wellness check recently, make an appointment!

Mood

Exercise, along with proper nutrition and adequate sleep, can contribute to you feeling more alert, focused, happier, and less stressed. Sounds ideal, right? If you feel your mood continually increasing as you follow a healthy lifestyle, then count this as a success.

If you’re feeling down, sluggish, or easily agitated, it’s time to reassess your routine. Make sure to include time for exercise, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep.

Alcohol Consumption

Even though some research has found that drinking a glass of wine a day is fine (and possibly beneficial), the bottom line is that too much alcohol can diminish your overall health. The CDC states that over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to certain types of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, memory and cognition problems, mental health issues, and more.

Take note of your drinking patterns and make sure to keep them moderate. Your long-term health will improve if you cut back on alcoholic drinks.

Time Spent Being Active

young man and woman with barbells doing shoulder press squats in gym
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Think of exercise as something that’s woven into your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. Exercise improves mood, strengthens bones, reduces the risk of many diseases, and helps improve your overall health. If you’re spending at least 30 minutes a day being active, meaning breaking a sweat, then you’re doing great.

Another excellent way to assess your health is to do a fitness check every month. List some basic skills, such as running, push-ups, laps in the pool, timed planks. Repeat these activities every month, recording your time, speed, heart rate, etc. This will chart your progress over the year to come, giving you concrete data of how much you’re improving.

Consider investing in a heart monitor or a smartwatch to track your heart rate. This will optimize your workouts, making sure you reach your target heart range.

Sleep Quality and Quantity

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. But remember; quality and quantity are essential when it comes to sleep. Being in bed for 9 hours but waking up frequently, and never entering deep phases of sleep will leave you unrested, anxious, and prone to more illnesses. One study found that sleep deprivation can contribute to the risk of heart attack and stroke to the same extent as being a smoker.

Set aside all distractions, hit the sack early, and get better sleep.

Hydration

Staying healthy means being committed to ultimate hydration. Not sure how much you need? Are the eight glasses of eight ounces each really for everyone? It’s recommended to look at the color of your urine to determine if you’re drinking enough water.

Ideally, your pee should be a pale yellow. If it’s anything darker than that, you’re likely dehydrated and should up your daily water intake. On the other hand, if your pee is totally clear, you might be overhydrated. 


All these tools are here to paint a broader picture of your current state of health. This is more accurate than a single number from your bathroom scale. So the next time you’re feeling down about your weight, pause and look at other areas in your life.

If you’re passing your fitness tests, have good blood pressure, are clocking in decent sleep hours, then you’re doing all right. Remember, you don’t have to excel in all of these areas. Pick a few to work on and go with that. Being healthy is fluid; some days you’ll be ahead in sleep, but maybe behind in vegetables. Aim for balance, and you’ll get there!

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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