Tracking Physical Health: What, How and When

Thu, Jan 30, 2020 3-minute read 500 words

The challenge with tracking physical health is its measurement. How do you express health in numbers? After years of testing different health metrics, I opted for a simple way to track my health on a daily basis.

Tracking Health is Not Simple

If you think you can track health with fitness trackers - you are confusing “health” with “healthy living”. The number of steps taken and calories burned are not indicators of “being healthy” - they simpy measure our efforts at staying healthy.

But if you want to compare your health before and after treatment X – what numbers would you use?

Over the course of several years, I looked at dozens of measures of physical wellbeing. With each metric, I examined how well it reflects overall health and how easy it is to track on a regular basis. Some measures were tested for months, others were abandoned almost immediately.

Body Weight

Body weight and its derivatives (BMI) have been shown to be significant predictors of long-term physical wellbeing. They are also easy to track regularly.

What makes weight a bad indicator of health is that it is not reflective of ailments (like headache). Both healthy and sick days would look the same on my daily weight chart.

Heart Rate and Body Temperature

I tracked my heart rate with mobile app and body temperature with digital thermometer before abandoning these metrics as inconvenient and time-consuming. The same applies to blood pressure.

Blood Tests

Blood tests like Inside Tracker give you data on a large number of biomarkers. But they are inconvenient for tracking on a regular basis.

Other metrics like oxygen saturation, glucose levels, and saliva/urine based measurements of PH, ketones, protein, leukocytes and other markers are too narrow to track overall physical health.

Simple Metrics to Track Health

Ultimately, I settled on two metrics that I use throughout the day to capture the current state of physical health at any moment.

The first metric is quantitative. It is a simple 5-point scale in rTracker that rates my current physical health as related to the quality of life and presence of symptoms:

1 = Sick 2= Debilitating 3 = Distracting 4= Ignorable 5 = Healthy

In a single number, I can capture the fact that I did not feel well, and to what extent that affected my life at the moment.

The second metric is qualitative. It’s a text box in my rTracker where I record symptoms or conditions I had at that moment:

tracking health

I understand that these metrics are not perfect. There are many illnesses that are asymptomatic or can be only detected by means of blood analysis or MRI/CAT. But it works for me.

Both metrics are simple and take less than 10 seconds to record. They let me take snapshots of my health throughout the day on a continuous basis. As a bonus, I am building a habit of constantly listening to my body and maintaining awareness of my physical state. Living consciously – by the numbers!