That Which is Measured

The foods that we consume are literally woven into the flesh of our being through the process of digestion, so understanding what we put into our bodies is one way of getting a handle on our overall health. Although a fan of old-fashioned pen and paper documentation, I’m pleased by the current crop of online databases which make it relatively simple to track what we eat, sometimes down to the nutrient microgram.

The USDA’s SuperTracker is a powerful program that enables you to follow not merely calorie counts or macronutrient distribution but also gives you insight into the vitamin and mineral content of your food. As a bonus, the information contained comes from (mostly) valid and reliable sources: registered dietitians and other scientists working for the United States government.

According to Consumer Reports, the 3 sites listed below provide the best free smartphone/e-reader/tablet applications. While I can’t comment on their ability to drill down into the nitty-gritty of  micronutrient tracking, I applaud their “restaurant” sections as so many of us eat a substantial quantity of our meals away from home.

Sparkpeople is a broad-based free-to-join website that includes not just food tracking but provides exercise guidance and forums for both accountability and moral support.

LoseIt! has a simplified interface and looks promising, whereas Calorie Count has been vetted by the likes of Tech Crunch and PC Magazine.

All of these tools take some getting used to, but once you’ve learned how to navigate their systems entering information and reading reports becomes quicker and easier. So take a moment to find out what you’re REALLY made of. Your body will thank you in the long run.

I (Stylized Image of Cardiac Musculature) Science

Man, there’s nothing like a brief but well-written scientific analysis which backs up the use of a type of physical activity to promote health. The “fitness industry” continues to be awash with spurious claims, dangerous forms of training, and outright fraud; even legitimate exercise scientists often are hampered by lack of basic research to support specific training modalities. The work of Joseph Pilates continues to be investigated, and if you are feeling “biomechanically curious” check out this article for insight into just what contrology is and why it works so darned well. 

Data, data, data

Health. A deceptively difficult topic. The World Health Organization defines health as Health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Using this definition as a yardstick, a recent publication from The National Research Council and The Institute of Medicine provides evidence that despite the extraordinary sums of money spent on ‘health care’ in the United States we rank LAST in terms of almost all measures among 17 developed nations. Don’t believe me? Check out the source data for yourself. Then make plans to go do something physically active with people you care about outdoors, in Nature, pronto.

Interpreting Numbers

A recent meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that being overweight to moderately obese may actually reduce one’s risk of all-cause mortality. This has led to a whole host of responses from outrage (“I can’t believe that they are suggesting that people maintain higher than normal body weight!”) to smug snarkiness (“Well I think I’ll have those extra cookies after all.”) As an exercise scientist, I’ve long known that there is a wide range of what is ‘healthy’ in terms of BMI, or body mass index, a simple weight to height ratio (what is yours? find out here). After skimming the article, I conclude that weight and health are still inextricably linked, but having more flexible perceptions about body size would serve us well. More work clearly needs to be done, and perhaps done urgently; I know of one individual who will be charged higher insurance premiums if she does not hit a BMI target! For today, allow yourself permission to focus your health-promoting efforts on how you feel. Foods and activities that nourish us should be pleasurable and leave us feeling more alive and connected with one another. So log off and get outside for a walk with friends and family!