6 Health Metrics That Are More Important Than Weight
Your weight combined with your height—otherwise known as Body Mass Index (BMI)—has been our society’s go-to measurement in determining your bill of health since its debut in the 1830s.1 According to this ancient method of measurement, over 70% of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese.2 This has led to the media announcing an “obesity epidemic” in the US, where being heavy is framed as a public health crisis.3
We also have a toxic “diet culture” perpetuating this exact message. In this culture, skinny is beautiful and the key to happiness is weight loss. Because, after all, that’s what we’re told at every turn after we step on the scale.
Yet, BMI doesn’t give the full picture of your health. Relying on this single measurement—that happens to be over 190 years old by the way!—to determine whether a person is healthy is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful. This weight stigma often causes the very health problems we’re trying to avoid in the first place.3
Join us as we dive into why our society’s weight phobia is hurting instead of helping solve our greatest health concerns—and what measurements you should use instead.
Why Is Weight Not a Good Metric?
Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that almost half of those considered overweight by BMI standards, 29% of those considered obese, and 16% of those in obesity class II (BMI 35-40) and III (BMI 40+) are healthy. Their blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, fasting glucose, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein levels were all normal.3 4
This means that by our rudimentary standards of measuring health using BMI, we're classifying a good 75 million U.S. adults as “unhealthy” when they are, in fact, healthy. This goes to show that it’s not weight that we need to be focusing on. It’s often the behaviors or factors behind weight gain that are detrimental to your health, not the weight itself.
This includes not only behaviors like a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle, but factors like stress levels, smoking habits, socioeconomic status, disability, and so on.3 Weight gain is often the result of these behaviors or factors, but not always the cause.
Then there are also factors like genetics and metabolism that make one person’s sedentary lifestyle result in weight gain and another’s result in a healthy-presenting skinny body. That’s why we can’t assume that every heavy person is unhealthy while every skinny person is healthy.
But yet, that’s how it is presented in the media. And the problem with this one-dimensional approach to health is that it shames those who happen to live in bigger bodies. And studies have found that this weight shaming can actually lead to the very behaviors that cause poor health outcomes—like turning to comfort food, or feeling unwelcome in a gym and staying on the couch instead.3
Using weight and the “obesity epidemic” as a way to frighten people into better health habits isn’t working. So instead of stepping onto the scale and using that number as a judgment of self-worth, let’s throw BMI into the trash and discuss better methods for measuring your health.
Metrics to Measure Instead of Weight
These methods of measurement include, but are not limited to: physical activity levels, blood pressure, resting heart rate, heart rate recovery and variability, cholesterol levels, and—most importantly!—happiness. Many of these measurements you can take right at home, but some need extra tools like a smartwatch, fitness tracker, chest strap monitor, or a visit to the doctor’s office.
Physical Activity Levels
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest causes of poor health and mortality. In a study of 122,007 patients undergoing exercise treadmill testing, for example, researchers found that fitness level, not BMI, was the biggest predictor of mortality risk.5 In other words, being heavier and in shape is often healthier than being skinny and out of shape.
But you don’t need to be hopping on a treadmill every day to improve your health. The main message here is that it’s important to move your body, no matter what that movement looks like for you—whether that’s joyful movement, gardening, taking a walk, cleaning the house, or hitting the gym. So instead of measuring your weight, keep track of how often you’re moving your body throughout the week.
Blood pressure is a measurement of how well your heart pumps blood and oxygen throughout your body. High blood pressure is a sign that your heart is working too hard to perform these functions.6
Over time, high blood pressure can result in the hardening of your arteries and the weakening of your blood vessels. This can put a major strain on your heart and result in serious or life-threatening health conditions like heart disease, heart failure, stroke, or kidney disease.6
Most people don’t own a home blood pressure monitor, so the best way to keep track of your blood pressure is to make an annual visit to your doctor.7 If your doctor lets you know that your blood pressure is too high, there are ways you can help lower it. These include exercising more, eating healthy, reducing your stress levels, quitting smoking, and getting a better night’s sleep.6
While losing weight is often credited as a way to lower your blood pressure, this isn’t the measurement to primarily focus on. For example, in one study where participants exercised five times a week for 12 weeks, they found that weight loss wasn’t always synonymous with better blood pressure.8
Some participants lost weight and improved their blood pressure throughout the study, while some maintained their weight while still lowering their blood pressure. In both cases, participants improved their health regardless of weight loss.8 This again proves that it’s not the weight you need to be focusing on, instead, focus on behaviors like exercise and healthy eating that directly correlate to an efficient and healthy heart.
Resting Heart Rate
Your heart rate doesn’t stay the same throughout the day, it adjusts to match your oxygen consumption.9 For example, when you exercise, your body needs more oxygen, which results in the speeding up of your heart rate. When you’re resting, the opposite occurs.
In general, a lower resting heart rate is a good indicator of heart health.10 It means your heart doesn’t need to work that hard to maintain a state of rest. A high resting heart rate could increase your risk of a heart attack or other heart problems.9
You can take your resting heart rate measurement right at home. Here’s how you do it:10
A healthy resting heart rate is anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Factors like your age, how you’re feeling that day, medications you’re taking, or even your body positioning can impact that number.10
One of the best ways to improve your resting heart rate is to train your heart’s efficiency through regular exercise.9 This is why athletes tend to be on the lower end of the scale—possibly even as low as 40 beats per minute—because they’ve trained their hearts to operate at maximum efficiency.10
Yet many athletes are also considered overweight or obese on the BMI scale because it fails to consider muscle mass. Take Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for example. At 6′ 5″ and 260 pounds—with more muscles than most people!—his BMI is 30.8. This places one of the most arguably “in-shape” men solidly in the “obese” category.11 Yet another reason why BMI should hardly be the measurement of choice.
Heart Rate Recovery And Variability
Another measurement you can take with your heart rate is how quickly your heart recovers from a high-intensity activity like exercising. The idea is that the healthier your heart, the quicker it should return to your resting heart rate.12
To measure your heart rate recovery, you first need to complete a high-intensity exercise. Immediately at the end of your workout before your body cools down, measure your heart rate. Then, take another measurement one minute after you finish. Your heart rate recovery is the difference between those two measurements. A healthy heart rate recovery is anywhere from 12 to 23 beats per minute.12
Many fitness trackers, watches, and chest strap monitors will track your heart rate recovery for you. And if you’re using one of these chest strap monitors you might also get access to another great health measurement: your heart rate variability. This is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat, or how quickly your heart can adapt to high-stress and low-stress situations.13
Both of these measurements can help you identify if your heart is working efficiently and responding effectively to the world around you. Lower heart rate variability and longer heart rate recovery times are often associated with health problems like coronary heart disease (CHD).14 15 Exercising, or placing your body under a healthy amount of stress, is one of the best ways to improve both heart rate recovery and variability.
Cholesterol is a type of fat or lipid that acts as a barrier to protect the cell membranes in your body. It also serves other useful functions like helping you digest foods, producing vitamin D, and making certain hormones.16
You need enough cholesterol to perform these functions, but too much cholesterol can cause fatty build-ups on the walls of your arteries that block the passage of oxygen-rich blood. This can lead to serious health problems like coronary heart disease (CHD).16
The biggest culprit of these build-ups is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol”. This cholesterol comes from saturated fats found in animal products like meat and dairy, or trans fats found in fried and fast foods. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good cholesterol” can remove LDL build-up and reduce your risk for heart disease.16
A visit to your doctor can help determine your cholesterol levels with a quick prick of your finger to get a sample of your blood. If your “bad” cholesterol levels are too high, the best thing you can do is limit your consumption of unhealthy high-fat foods, and opt for healthy high-fat foods like avocados, olives, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes instead. Exercise can also help lower your cholesterol levels.16
Perhaps more important than all these other methods of measurement is how happy you are in your relationship with both yourself and the people closest to you. In a meta-analysis of over 3,407,134 participants across seven years, researchers found that loneliness is one of the biggest indicators of mortality, even after controlling for other factors like age, socioeconomic status, and health.17
In a Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers monitored the health of over 268 Harvard students for almost 80 years beginning in 1938. Robert Waldinger, director of the study, said that the most surprising finding was that participants’ relationships and how happy they were in those relationships were far and away one of the most influential factors in their health.17
And it’s not just about relationships. Other studies have found that high levels of stress and/or depression are also risk factors for a whole host of health problems.19 20
These studies, among many others, show that the true measurement of health runs far deeper than any number on a scale, heart rate monitor, or blood sample. Taking time to focus on your mental health, relationships, and happiness are some of the best things you can do for your health.21
The Big Takeaway: Don’t Rely on One Method of Measurement
Just like weight, no one single metric can determine whether you're healthy or not. To get a full picture of your health you need to take all these numbers, behaviors, and factors into consideration. Work with your doctor to find and track the right metrics to monitor your health. Then, chart a path forward that’s focused not on weight loss, but a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Part of the switch to a healthier and happier lifestyle is filling your belly with the foods and drinks that build instead of tear down your health and wellness. With OLIPOP, we can help you on that journey. Learn more about our story, our community, and the power-packed ingredients that’ll help you along the way.
- Nordqvist, C. (2022, January 19). Why BMI is inaccurate and misleading. Medical News Today. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265215
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2021, September 10). Obesity and Overweight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
- Hunger, J. M., Smith, J. P., & Tomiyama, A. J. (2020). An Evidence‐Based Rationale for Adopting Weight‐Inclusive Health Policy. Social Issues and Policy Review, 14(1), 73–107. https://doi.org/10.1111/sipr.12062
- Tomiyama, A. J., Hunger, J. M., Nguyen-Cuu, J., & Wells, C. (2016). Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005–2012. International Journal of Obesity, 40(5), 883–886. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.17
- Mandsager, K., Harb, S., Cremer, P., Phelan, D., Nissen, S. E., & Jaber, W. (2018). Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Long-term Mortality Among Adults Undergoing Exercise Treadmill Testing. JAMA Network Open, 1(6), e183605. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3605
- HealthPartners. (2021, October 6). Blood pressure numbers & what they mean. HealthPartners Blog. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/which-numbers-mean-high-blood-pressure/
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2021, September 27). Measure Your Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/measure.htm
- Caudwell, P., Hopkins, M., King, N. A., Stubbs, R. J., & Blundell, J. E. (2009). Exercise alone is not enough: Weight loss also needs a healthy (Mediterranean) diet? Public Health Nutrition, 12(9A), 1663–1666.
- Harvard Health. (2020, August 30). What your heart rate is telling you. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/what-your-heart-rate-is-telling-you
- Laskowski, M.D., E. R. (2020, October 2). Heart rate: What’s normal? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/heart-rate/faq-20057979?reDate=03022022
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2022, January 21). What Is My BMI? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html
- Braun, MPH, RD, A. (2022, January 15). What Is Heart Rate Recovery? Verywell Health. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/heart-rate-recovery-5214767
- Harvard Health Publishing Staff. (2021, December 1). Heart rate variability: How it might indicate well-being. Harvard Health. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heart-rate-variability-new-way-track-well-2017112212789
- Cleveland Clinic. (2021, September 1). Heart Rate Variability (HRV): What It Is and How You Can Track It. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21773-heart-rate-variability-hrv
- van de Vegte, Y. J., van der Harst, P., & Verweij, N. (2018). Heart Rate Recovery 10 Seconds After Cessation of Exercise Predicts Death. Journal of the American Heart Association, 7(8). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.117.008341
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020, July 31). Cholesterol: Types, Tests, Treatments, Prevention. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11920-cholesterol-numbers-what-do-they-mean
- Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 227–237.
- Mineo, L. (2017, April 11). Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
- Dong, J. Y., Zhang, Y. H., Tong, J., & Qin, L. Q. (2012). Depression and risk of stroke: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. Stroke, 43, 32–37.
- Richardson, S., Shaffer, J. A., Falzon, L., Krupka, D., Davidson, K. W., & Edmondson, D. (2012). Meta-analysis of perceived stress and its association with incident coronary heart disease. The American Journal of Cardiology, 110, 1711–1716
- Willroth, E. C., Ong, A. D., Graham, E. K., & Mroczek, D. K. (2020). Being Happy and Becoming Happier as Independent Predictors of Physical Health and Mortality. Psychosomatic Medicine, 82(7), 650–657. https://doi.org/10.1097/psy.0000000000000832
- Just like weight, no one single metric can determine whether you're healthy or not.
- A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest causes of poor health and mortality.
- Part of the switch to a healthier and happier lifestyle is filling your belly with the foods and drinks that build instead of tear down your health and wellness.
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