Yup, if there’s one number that many of us tend to fixate on, it’s how many pounds you weigh. This is especially true if you’re conscious about your size or trying to slim down.
But the numbers on the scale aren’t the only ones that can affect your well-being. There are plenty of other stats to lean on. If the new numbers below are in the right place, give yourself a pat on the back! You’re doing some great things for your health.
If they’re off — even if you’re at a healthy weight — there may be some changes you will want to make, especially if you’re looking to make your body stronger.
Here are nine numbers worth paying attention to, other than what the scale has to say.
1. Your waist circumference
Your waist size is a good indicator of how much visceral (abdominal) fat you have. Higher measurements are linked to a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke — making visceral fat more dangerous than, say, extra fat on your arms or thighs.
“It’s thought that this visceral fat releases proteins that cause inflammation and damage arteries throughout the body,” explains Gary Tigges, MD, an internist at Texas Health Plano. That’s true even if you’re at a healthy weight, research suggests.
So break out the measuring tape and see where you stand: waist circumference should be less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men.
2. The number of fruits and vegetables you eat per day
Getting your fill is tied to serious health benefits. Colorful fruits and veggies serve up antioxidants that could help protect against heart disease and some cancers.
They’ve got fiber to promote healthy digestion too, says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, family medicine physician and author of “The 10-Day Total Body Transformation.” And you’ll likely reap some of these benefits whether you’re at a healthy weight or not.
One six-year study of nearly 12,000 adults found that overweight people who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily actually had a slightly lower risk of dying prematurely compared to normal weight people who ate fewer than five servings.
That’s not all. Piling your plate with produce just might give you a rosier outlook. Research shows that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables report being happier and more satisfied with their lives. Seems like a good reason to pick the side salad today!
3. Your fasting blood sugar
Fasting blood sugar levels over 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) can spell trouble.
Not only does too-high blood sugar leave you feeling faint, nauseous, and like you desperately need to eat some carbs, levels between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL could mean that you have prediabetes. And ones over 125 mg/dL do indicate diabetes.
When left untreated, that can have lasting health consequences. Uncontrolled diabetes can zap your energy and blur your vision. And over time, it can put you at greater risk for a heart attack, nerve damage, blindness, or kidney failure.
Of course, you probably don’t regularly check your blood sugar unless you already have diabetes. So talk with your doctor about when you should get a blood glucose test. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people over 45, or those under 45 with major risk factors, get tested once a year.
4. Your blood pressure
Does your blood pressure (BP) consistently clock in above 130/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury)? No matter what you weigh, BP numbers above that threshold can be bad news. High blood pressure damages your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder.
That can up your risk for heart attack or stroke as well as vision problems. It can even mess with your sex life, lowering women’s libido and putting men at risk for erectile dysfunction.
If you’re already at a healthy weight but your BP is still high, talk with your doctor. They can help you address the other factors that could be affecting your BP — like smoking or not getting enough exercise, says Tigges.
5. How much alcohol you consume each week
Sure, overdoing it on the booze might give you a beer belly. But even if it doesn’t, drinking too much can have a serious impact on your health.
Excessive alcohol consumption ups your risk for a laundry list of problems, including:
- fatty liver disease
- high blood pressure
- some cancers
It can even suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching infections.
Of course, moderate drinking has been shown to have some benefits, like a lower risk for heart disease. And a glass of wine with dinner likely won’t affect your weight, as long as you account for the extra calories.
So, how much is too much? Women should stick with one drink or less per day, while men can have up to two, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
6. The number of steps you take per day
In general, more is almost always better. “The more active you are, the healthier you are,” says Agarwal.
Indeed, a sedentary lifestyle can increase the odds for a host of chronic diseases — including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cognitive dysfunction, and some cancers.
Plus, exercise ramps up the production of endorphins that can ease your stress and boost your mood.
And you don’t have to sweat bullets or slog it out at the gym to benefit. Simply walking 10,000 steps per day is a great goal, Agarwal says. (If you can’t quite hit that number, don’t worry. “Just try to improve every day by a few steps,” she recommends.)
A pedometer app on your phone can help you keep track. You might be surprised by the number of steps you rack up just through everyday activities like grocery shopping or doing chores around the house.
7. Your cholesterol
It’s true that people who are overweight are more likely to have high cholesterol (defined as 240 mg/dL or above).
But you can be overweight and have cholesterol levels that are perfectly normal.
And you can be at a healthy weight but still have numbers that are too high, Tigges explains. Why? Your cholesterol levels are largely affected by the amount of saturated fat you eat and how active you are. (Age and genetics also play a role.)
If you’re naturally thin and don’t pay much attention to your weight, you might not think as much about keeping your saturated fat levels in check or making sure that you get enough exercise, says the American Heart Association. But they do recommend having your numbers checked every four to six years.
So, if it’s been a while, ask your doctor about getting tested — no matter what your weight.
8. The number of hours you sleep each night
Seven to eight seems to be the magic number. Just a night or two of short shut-eye can leave you feeling fuzzy, moody, and even more prone to getting into a car accident.
And it’s enough to suppress your immune system and make you more susceptible to colds, according to findings published in the journal Sleep.
Things get worse with chronic sleep deprivation.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, compared to people who snooze enough, those who regularly skimp on sleep have a 50 percent higher risk for obesity, a 48 percent higher risk of heart disease, and a 33 percent higher risk for developing dementia. They’re also three times more likely to end up with type 2 diabetes.
So if you’re getting less, take steps to start meeting your nightly quota. On the flip side, know that getting more than seven to eight hours of sleep isn’t necessarily better.
Oversleeping (more than 10 hours) could indicate an underlying health problem, like depression or sleep apnea.
9. The amount of times you dine out in a week
It’s no secret that restaurant meals tend to be kind of ginormous. That means they usually pack in more calories than what you’d eat at home, not to mention more saturated fat and sodium.
And all of this can add up to a bigger body mass index and waist circumference, and higher blood pressure and cholesterol.
Of course, going out to eat is fun, and no one’s saying you should ban restaurant fare altogether. But, in general, home-cooked meals should be your default and long-term plan.
“Assuming you eat three meals per day, I’d recommend having no more than five meals out per week,” Agarwal says.
The bottom line
Yes, it’s important to keep an eye on your weight. But it’s far from the only thing that can clue you in to your health. Instead of focusing so intensely on what the scale says, consider working on some of these other numbers instead.
You’ll feel great knowing you’re doing good things for your body — and you might even end up losing some weight along the way.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and wellness writer whose work has appeared in Parade, Prevention, Redbook, Glamour, Women’s Health, and others. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.