One of the most headline-grabbing topics of the last few years has been the global obesity epidemic. The importance of exercising more and eating better has been emphasized time and again by experts in hopes of improving health across the board. It is no wonder that fitness trackers have seen such a surge in popularity. These devices educate and empower individuals to take action to improve their health.
While there are no silver bullets or magic pills, fitness trackers can assist in increasing health outcomes related to things like weight and sleep. Users can employ these tools to track rest, nutrition, exercise and everyday activity. The problem: these various constructs don’t mean a lot when they stand alone. For instance, maybe you logged three miles of running today, but you also ate a large pizza and got only three hours of sleep. Despite having exercised, your bigger picture is not one of perfect health.
Under Armour’s new HealthBox solves that problem with a fully integrated system of devices that communicate with one another. A smart scale, fitness band and heart-rate monitor work in conjunction to provide that big picture. Even still, understanding what the health data actually mean can be confusing. But, when you effectively interpret the numbers and information these devices offer, you have a better chance at figuring out a plan of attack when it comes to improving your overall health.
LEARN MORE ABOUT HEALTHBOX: Your Connected Fitness System
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, boost fitness or simply feel better in your everyday life, these are the six measures you should study to help facilitate improved health:
Weight is largely influenced by what you eat, as well as how much you exercise. With that said, factors like height and gender also matter when considering whether you are at a healthy weight. Most of us have some sense as to what an appropriate weight is based on our size, but this number can be confusing when you consider that the number on the scale doesn’t differentiate between fat and lean body mass like muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Even still, weight is a good number to monitor and track progress over time.
MORE INFO: Why You Should Track Weight
2. Fat Mass
Determining your fat mass is important because it helps add context to the amount you weigh. Fat takes up four times the amount of space that muscle tissue occupies, so you could conceivably stay at the same weight but get smaller as you lose fat and gain muscle. Conversely, dramatic weight loss not accompanied by muscle gain can leave something to be desired in terms of your overall health. Muscle can help increase your metabolism, so swapping fat for muscle — even if the number of the scale remains steady — will make you healthier. By figuring out your body-fat percentage, you get a more complete image of your body composition. This will help you better analyze weight gain or loss.
The body mass index measurement takes into account your weight in relation to your height. To calculate your BMI, plug your current weight and height into a calculator so you can determine whether you fall into a healthy weight range. In general, a higher BMI often indicates higher body fat, which has been linked to a wide range of negative health outcomes and chronic diseases. A BMI of under 18.5 means you’re underweight, 18.5–24.9 puts you in the normal range, 25–29.9 means you’re overweight, 30 is considered obese and 40 is morbidly obese. Similar to your overall weight, BMI doesn’t differentiate between fat and lean tissue, so while these numbers are important, they are just one piece of the puzzle.
The number of steps you take each day affects how many calories you burn as well as your overall weight and wellness. You often hear the 10,000 steps-per day goal, but it turns out that’s not based on much. While 10,000 steps a day — the equivalent of about five miles — works for many, there is no one-size-fits-all metric when it comes to exercise. If you’re starting to measure your steps at a point when you’re pretty sedentary, the goal should simply be to increase your step count from your baseline. If you’re looking to get into shape, 10,000 steps may be too low of a goal to prompt big fitness gains.
MORE INFO: Why You Should Track Steps
There’s no question that the quality and amount of sleep you get influences everything from activity to nutrition. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the number of hours of sleep you should get each night depends on your age. For most adults 26–54 years old, somewhere between 7–9 hours is ideal. If you discover you’re getting less than this, it could have a negative effect on weight loss and fitness goals, as well as quality of life.
MORE INFO: Why You Should Track Sleep
6. Heart Rate
Heart rate is helpful to monitor during exercise because it helps you get a sense of how intensely you’re working out. Once you figure out your resting heart rate and what numbers put you into different heart-rate training zones, you will have a better sense of how hard you are actually working during exercise sessions. This is important because the intensity at which you work out has a direct effect on performance, fitness and calories burned. What’s more, if you track these numbers over time, you will find that, as you gain fitness, your resting heart rate actually drops because it doesn’t have to beat as hard to move oxygen and nutrients around.