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Effective Ways of Measuring Progress

By Chad Tackett

Success can be measured on a number of levels. It's important to measure your progress by the new healthy habits you're adopting as well as by your appearance. Long-term decreases in medical problems, injury, and other health risks and an improved quality of life, with or without weight loss, are the most important measures of success

Short and medium-term changes can also be measured regularly during the process. These include obvious changes in health-related behavior patterns such as a decreased reliance on medications, increased ability to perform physical activity, a reduced intake of fat, and the increased intake of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your diet.

If you've started making slight changes in how your food is cooked or prepared, or if you're reading labels at the grocery store and are discovering new tastes and textures, you're making great improvements towards a healthier lifestyle. When you feel good about yourself and acknowledge the changes you're making along the way, you're more likely to keep moving forward on your path.

Physical indicators of progress towards a healthier body fat distribution include the waist circumference and waist-hip ration (WHR). Because abdominal obesity has consistently been associated with risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, any reduction in the waist circumference or in the WHR is a positive step towards a healthier body fat distribution, regardless of weight loss.

Another good way of determining physical progress is having your body fat measured by either hydrostatic weighing, electrical impedance, or simply by using skinfold calipers. This latter is by far the cheapest and most accessible. Although it is not as accurate as the other two methods, it can at the very least give you a beginning point from which you can easily measure decreases in body fat. Please refer to the Global Health and Fitness Personal Trainer Directory to find a certified personal trainer in your area that can measure your body fat percentage.

However you decide to measure your physical progress, never use the scale as an indicator. Your weight does not reflect how healthy you are or the progress you've made. When you step on the scale, your weight reflects the combined total of both your lean body weight (muscle, bone, organs, fluids) and body fat weight. Two people with identical body weights do not have the same body composition; they could, indeed, have entirely different body types. For example a 170-pound man might have 60 pounds of body fat and 110 pounds of lean body mass. A healthier, more muscular man might only have 25 pounds of body fat and 145 pounds of lean body mass. Even though these two individuals weigh the same, one is in much better shape than the other.

Using the scale to measure your progress gives you no information about the body composition (fat vs. muscle) changes that are actually occurring. The scale may show that you've lost seven pounds, but it can't tell you that half of the weight was muscle and water, not fat. Similarly, people become discouraged when they haven't lost any weight, even though they have actually lost pounds of fat and replaced them with pounds of firm, fat-burning muscle.

Developing healthier eating and physical activity habits will most likely result in a loss of body fat even though the scale may indicate that you weigh the same. Learn to use other methods of determining body composition and pay more attention to improvements in how you feel, in your self-esteem, and in your physical appearance.

Height/weight charts and other tables such as the BMI (Body Mass Index: weight in kilograms divided by height in meters, squared) have similar limitations when used as an indicator of progress towards a healthier lifestyle for several reasons. First, these formulas are not always related to how fat you are since they don't take into account body composition/fat distribution. Many people who are muscular or short and stocky have a high BMI, even though they are not necessarily fat or at high risk for disease. Second, the BMI is only appropriate for adults 20-65 years of age. It cannot account for patterns of growth in adolescents or in the elderly, who may decrease in height with age. Third, the focus is still on changing one's weight to produce a lower BMI (since it's not possible to increase one's height). This continues to promote weight change as the ideal way to improve health.

Don't forget to notice and acknowledge improvements in energy, performance, self-esteem, and the many other benefits you'll gain from this healthier lifestyle: improvements in health risk factors and medical conditions, improved quality of life and psychological functioning, healthier eating, and more enjoyable physical activity.

- Bio: Chad Tackett has degrees in Exercise and Heath Science and Nutrition, is a Certified Personal Trainer, and is a regular guest lecturer to both professional and lay audiences on the principles of effective exercise and good nutrition.




last update: February 2009



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