Most of us work hard to stay healthy and in shape. But how do we know if we’ve succeeded? Here are a few simple ways to see test your coordination, endurance, and potential longevity. As well as critical reasons why our other parts of our body, like our teeth, nails, and bathroom habits are important indicators as well.
Balancing on one foot
It may sound silly, but being able to balance on one foot is a good indicator of more than just your coordination and stability. A study, published in Stroke, reports an association between a lack of balancing skills and an increased risk for small blood vessel damage and reduced cognitive function in people who appear otherwise asymptomatic.
The researchers asked participants to stand on one leg for up to 60 seconds (if possible) with both eyes open. This examination was carried out twice, with the best recorded time from each participant used within the study analysis. A total of 841 women and 546 men, with an average age of 67, participated in the study. Participants were examined with an MRI to evaluate cerebral small vessel disease damage. Computer-based questionnaires were also used to help monitor cognitive impairment.
The study shares that cerebral small vessel disease was associated with being unable to balance on one leg for more than 20 seconds. In particular, the researchers noted an association with small subclinical infarctions – obstruction of blood supply to tissue leading to tissue death – such as lacunar infarctions and microbleeds.
This isn’t the first study to link the ability to balance on one foot with health. In another study, published in BMJ, researchers found an association between the amount of time people at the age of 53 were able to balance on one leg and all-cause mortality rates.
Consistent, restful sleep patterns
Sleep is one of the cornerstones to our health. Poor sleep can wreak havoc on our bodies, resulting in:
- Higher pain levels
- Inability to concentrate
- Negative impact to relationships due to mood swings, unpredictability
- Irregular eating habits
- Weight gain
- Impact to immunity
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Sources share three indicators of good sleep include:
- You fall asleep in under 30 minutes.
- You sleep straight through the night without waking up more than once. If you wake, you fall back asleep in under 20 minutes.
- You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking up in the morning.
Being able to get off the floor with little assistance
A longevity test devised by a team of Brazilian researchers and recently written up in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, has proven to be predictive of longevity.
Sit on the floor from a standing position without using your hands, arms, or knees to slow your descent. Then stand back up—without using your hands, arms, or knees to help boost you back up, if possible.
In the Brazilian study, 2002 men and women ages 51 to 80 were followed for an average of 6.3 years, and those who needed to use both hands and knees to get up and down (whether they were middle-aged or elderly) were almost seven times more likely to die within six years than those who could spring up and down without support.
“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival,” study author Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro, has said, “but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination also has a favorable influence on life expectancy.”
Keeping active and working to improve balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength is vital for everyday activities, to prevent injury, and this new study shows, to protect our life span. Check out our weekly exercises and stretches, many of which require hardly any equipment (if any at all).
Many health concerns often go unchecked because a common symptom of a range of health issues- being tired- is frequently deemed “normal”. Exhaustion and busyness are worn as a badge of honor in our society, often viewed as an indicator of productivity and being or doing “enough”. However, being exhausted, fueling with caffeine, skipping meals, and not hydrating, impacts your body in many ways beyond the fatigue that is felt.
Overall, it is a good indication of balanced energy levels if you can:
- Participate in regular activities e.g. work, school, maintaining your home, errands without aches, pains, strain, or severe fatigue. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be tired at the end of the day, but you generally should be able to get through the day with sufficient energy.
- You are able to participate in physical activities, i.e. exercise, without affecting your energy levels.
To jumpstart your energy, start with the basics: sleep, fuel with quality foods, hydrate. And, don’t forget exercise, as many studies have shown an association between physical activity and a reduced risk of experiencing feelings of low energy and fatigue when compared to sedentary adults.
Bloating, constipation, gas, discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea can all put a kink in your day. There is no set quantity of times that people should have a bowel movement. According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 95.5% of people have a bowel movement according to a “3-3” rule: between 3 times a day and 3 times a week. Frequency can be impacted by a variety of factors including gut health, diet, hydration, exercise, medications, supplements, and more. To help gauge whether your bathroom routine is healthy, as yourself if:
- You have a bowel movement often enough that you don’t feel bloated or experience discomfort.
- You can poop without straining.
- Urine is pale yellow to almost clear
- You can perform daily activities, including exercising, sneezing, laughing, coughing, lifting, and jumping without leakage or discomfort.
If you find that you do experience leakage, discomfort, or irregular bowel movements, speak to your provider. When it comes to pelvic floor health- which is the area between your tailbone and pubic bone that contains muscles that encircle the urethra, vagina, and anus, dysfunction shouldn’t be chalked up to “normal”. The pelvic floor muscles work with the deep abdominal hip and back muscles and the diaphragm to stabilize and support the spine. They also control the pressure inside your abdomen when lifting or straining. UC Health shares, “These muscles are essential in bladder and bowel control, as well as in sexual sensations and functions”. Pelvic floor dysfunction should be addressed, and a pelvic floor therapist can help.
Poor oral health can lead to more than just some pain and the need for dental work. It can ultimately lead to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Pregnancy and birth complications
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Some forms of cancer
- Obstructive sleep apnea
Some indicators of good oral health include:
- Ability to eat foods at different temps without sensitivity
- Gums don’t bleed when brushing or flossing
- Neutral smelling breath (bad breath can be a sign of many issues including renal or hepatic failure, leukemia, diabetes, GERD, upper respiratory tract infections, and more).
- The surface of your teeth are smooth, meaning the enamel is intact
Schedule regular cleanings with your dental provider to keep track of any changes in your oral health that may indicate other health issues.
You can read more about the importance of oral health, here.
Nails and skin
Hair, nails, and skin are often overlooked as indicators of health, but they tell a tale just the same.
Changes in skin health are typically noticed when rashes, new moles, changes in existing moles, pain, or when changes in skin texture and color occur. These concerns can be a result of diet, medications, hydration, sun exposure, skin cancer, and more. If you notice anything related to the ABC(de)s of skin health, speak to your provider about what may be the cause.
The Mayo Clinic shares, “Healthy nails are smooth, without ridges, grooves, spots or discoloration. Nails can develop harmless conditions, such as vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges often become more prominent with age. Nails can also develop white lines or spots as a result of injury, but these grow out with the nail and do not cause problems.”
Sometimes, changes in your nail health can indicate health concerns and may be related to stress, kidney diseases, vitamin deficiencies, lung problems, and more. Pay attention to:
- Beau’s lines, side-to-side lines which can be a symptom of acute kidney disease or psoriasis
- white areas or streaks
- brittle nails
- vertical brown lines (potential melanoma)
- yellow nails
Despite nearly half of American adults having some kind of cardiovascular disease (and often don’t know it), people often dismiss how much our regular behaviors and habits impact our heart health. Oral health, whether we regularly exercise, hydration, foods that we consume, stress levels, weight, alcohol consumption and more, all impact the state of our heart. Generally speaking, good heart health can be measured by:
- Being able to breathe normally during regular physical activities. You can keep track of your heart rate with a smart watch.
- Good oral hygiene is also a sign of good heart health. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease are associated with the risk of heart disease .
- Being able to ascend four flights of stairs in less than one-and-a-half minutes. The author of one study, Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain. shares “If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor.”
These indicators aren’t meant to be used in place of regular visits with your provider. But they can help you generally gauge where things stand and may prompt you to have an important conversation with your provider about specific concerns.