SparkPeople Health Measurements

You're committing to a healthier lifestyle for plenty of reasons. Whether you want to look better, feel stronger or live longer, you know that regular exercise, adequate sleep and healthy eating can help us do all of those things—and more. Those same habits can also help decrease your risk of chronic diseases and lower your risk factors of heart disease and premature death. Talk about a bonus!

You already track your calories, weight, water intake and fitness minutes on SparkPeople. Why? Because it helps you stay accountable, continue to improve, and see that you're really making valuable progress toward your goals. So why not track your other health measures—blood pressure, cholesterol and more—to see how well you're doing? Health achievements, like lowering your resting heart rate or stabilizing your blood sugar levels, are reasons to celebrate, too. And they show you that all your hard work in the gym and in the kitchen is really paying off.

That's why we recommend recording these health measurements at regular intervals. You can keep these as your own personal health records or share them with your health care provider to help manage and prevent a variety of health conditions. Here's what you'll need to know about measuring, tracking and interpreting your blood pressure, total cholesterol, resting heart rate and blood sugar readings.

Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and recorded as two numbers—systolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart contracts) over diastolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart relaxes between beats), which is usually written as "120/80" (where 120 is the systolic number and 80 is the diastolic number). Most people get their blood pressure checked when visiting a doctor's office, using a sphygmomanometer, but gyms, personal trainers, and even pharmacies offer blood pressure screenings, too.

In addition, some people with home blood pressure cuffs can check their blood pressures multiple times per day, usually as instructed by a doctor. Knowing your blood pressure readings throughout the day—and day to day—can help you adjust your medication and therapy (for hypertension) throughout the day. As you lose weight on SparkPeople and your blood pressure improves, be sure to share your readings with your doctor and find out if you need to adjust your medication due to weight loss or blood pressure improvement.

Any time you receive a blood pressure reading, whether you're a healthy person who gets a reading at an annual physical, or you have hypertension and track your blood pressure more frequently, you can record it on SparkPeople to check your progress over time.

An optimal reading is a systolic blood pressure (the top number) at or below 120 mm/Hg and a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) at or below 80 mm/Hg. If your numbers are higher, click here to interpret them, as high blood pressure is a risk factor for other conditions, such as heart disease.

If your blood pressure is high, discuss it with your health-care provider for help lowering it. Lots of healthy lifestyle habits, from regular exercise to dietary changes can help you continue to improve your blood pressure over time, too.

Blood Sugar (Glucose)
A blood test ordered by your doctor can measure your blood glucose (sugar) level, which is measured in mg/dL. Healthy people without risk factors for insulin resistance don't need to monitor their blood glucose levels, but many individuals with insulin resistance, diabetes, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes (during pregnancy) are instructed by their doctors to measure their blood glucose levels at home by using a blood glucose level testing kit. Your doctor, health care provider, dietitian and/or diabetes educator should have given you detailed instructions for how often to measure your blood glucose and how to interpret and remedy your results (if necessary). This can involve testing your blood sugar daily or multiple times per day, such as before exercise and after each meal.

In general terms, a daytime blood glucose range between 80 and 120 mg/dL is considered "normal." In the first hours after a meal, everyone—not just people with glucose problems—will experience a rise in blood sugar levels, typically to a level between 120 and 140 mg/dL. In general, a blood glucose reading lower than 70 mg/dL is too low. For most people, blood glucose levels that stay higher than 140 mg/dL (before meals) are too high. Your health care provider should have given you acceptable ranges and goals for your own blood glucose levels, so always refer to those first and foremost.

Any time you measure your blood glucose level, you can record it on SparkPeople to keep track of your results over time. Use this in conjunction with your Nutrition and Fitness Trackers to better understand how food, physical activity, and medications affect your glucose levels. Share this information with your health care providers to better balance your blood sugar levels and deal with any problems that you notice.

For more details about blood glucose testing and management, the CDC's online publication, Take Charge of Your Diabetes.

Cholesterol that flows through the bloodstream is called serum (blood) cholesterol. Your body manufactures most of its blood cholesterol, but it absorbs some from the foods you eat. Your total cholesterol is measured by a doctor-ordered blood test called a lipid panel. A total blood cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL is a healthy goal. If your doctor thinks you're at risk for high cholesterol, based on family history or health status, he or she will probably order lipid panels more regularly to keep an eye on your cholesterol over time.

High cholesterol can lead to health problems, including artery blockage and heart disease. One of the best ways to lower your cholesterol is to track it. Have your doctor perform blood tests regularly so that you can both track your results and progress. For more information about lowering your cholesterol, click here.

Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute while at rest. A strong or efficient heart can pump more blood with fewer, stronger beats, while a weaker heart needs to pump faster to do the same amount of work. That's why resting heart rate is a good indicator of your state of fitness. Plus, some studies show that a higher resting heart rate can raise the chances of a heart attack.

To accurately measure your resting heart rate, count your pulse on your wrist (radial pulse) or on the side of your neck (carotid pulse) prior to getting out of bed in the morning. Count the number of beats, starting with zero, for one full minute. For accuracy, take your resting heart rate three mornings in a row and average the heart rates. Measuring your resting heart rate every month or two will help you notice trends or changes over time.

A normal resting heart rate for adults can vary from as low as 40 beats per minute (bpm) to as high as 100 bpm, according to the American Council on Exercise; 70-80 beats per minute (or fewer) is average. Men's heart rates tend to be slightly higher than women's are, and the resting heart rates of endurance athletes are often very low (below 40 bpm). Resting heart rate alone can't determine your health or fitness level, but experts agree that a lower resting heart rate is usually an indicator or greater fitness, which often translates to better heart health.

Over time, exercising regularly—especially doing cardio (aerobic) exercise and endurance training—can strengthen your heart's efficiency and lower your resting heart rate. Many factors (age, fitness level, genetics and more) can affect resting heart rate, which can also vary day to day, so it's important to notice general trends over the course of several weeks and months. As your RHR lowers, recalculate your target heart rate range every few months. If your resting heart rate suddenly elevates, it can indicate overtraining or the need for more rest and recovery from a previous workout. If you feel that your resting heart rate is of concern, talk with your health care provider.

Take control of your health! Start tracking these health measurements today!

This article was reviewed and approved by SparkPeople experts Tanya Jolliffe, Nutritionist, and Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer and Health Educator.