top of page

Know Yourself

Before you begin a diet and exercise program, as you know, you should consult your doctor. But you should also consult yourself! Many people don’t seem to really be in touch with themselves such as knowing what is normal and what is not normal. Do you know your blood pressure and pulse rate? Do you just know the numbers from the last time you saw a doctor? Or do you monitor it every day or even multiple times a day. Do you know the difference between your blood pressure, pulse rate, and respirations at rest, or after physical exertion or even after emotional stress? Do you know you can probably change those numbers with some changes to your lifestyle? Later we will go into detail to explain some of these measurements of your physical (and sometimes emotional) well-being.

To help you assess your current state of health, a quick, easy, and fun way is to log on to the RealAge site to have it determine your real, physical age compared to your chronological age. You can click on this link for RealAge (Dr. Michael F. Roizen's book is mentioned in the section on Calm Down) to answer the free questionnaire that results in the calculation of your "Real Age." You will be given suggestions on how to decrease your RealAge right away. The site provides you with the average number of years you are adding to or are subtracting from your chronological age. Yes, you can get younger! My RealAge, for example, was about 20 years less than my chronological age. I sure hope it stays that way!

We will be talking about the values of the following parameters you should know about yourself before starting a heavy exercise program. It will allow you to establish a baseline in order to measure your progress. But remember, we are going to start slow and easy. We don't want to do anything that will hurt us and that will stop our progress. On the following pages you will be introduced to such a way to start that will give you fantastic benefits.

Here are those parameters we will be checking in order for you to know your status and to establish a baseline:

•  Chronic Conditions

  • Your doctor will be able to tell you what to avoid. For example, if you have a torn ACL you will certainly have to avoid putting stress on your knee. Those are the type of issues that your doctor will let you know about. However there are many conditions, including cancer, that can be benefited by exercise and diet. We will note some of the research.
  • You may know of some conditions yourself, such as a "bad" back. This can also be helped by exercise if done properly. But at this point you should just be making note of the issues.
  • These conditions should be communicated to your trainer, if you have one, or anyone leading an exercise program in which you want to become involved.

•  Blood Pressure

  • Briefly, blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. It is given as two number, such as 120/80. The first number is the systolic pressure (the pressure when the heart contracts) and the lower one is the diastolic (the pressure in the arteries between beats). The American Heart Association says that normal is less than 120 over less than 80 (see They also say “In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.” [1] This is nice to know since my blood pressure has been steadily decreasing after increasing my activity and paying closer attention to my diet. I did have a mild heart attack – I barely felt it. As mentioned elsewhere, our arteries start building plaque at birth. I realize now that my vegetarianism helped quite a bit but it wasn’t perfect. I switched to a vegan anti-cardiovascular disease diet and, along with my blood pressure continuing to drop (double digits), my plaque is hopefully disolving.* I would be considered slightly hypotensive although this is nothing to worry about since I have no negative symptoms. I truly think that what has happened to me is what is mentioned on the RealAge site noted previously: My body, in some ways, is getting younger and my RealAge is being reduced. Nearly everyone should be able to reduce their blood pressure naturally, without using dangerous drugs.
                           * Unfortunately the best test of the thickness of plaque in the arteries is an autopsy. I’m not interested in going that route right now.

•  Pulse Rate

  • When your heart contracts, a wave of pressure flows through your arteries. This is our pulse. We usually measure our pulse at the wrist or neck. There are also pulse monitors that can be worn like a wristwatch. Your pulse can give an indication of your health. The American Heart Association say that a “normal” resting heart rate is between about 60 and 100 beats per minute [2]. This link also shows you how to check your pulse. The resting heart rate is taken when you are not exercising. I take mine shortly after I wake up in the morning.
  • Target Heart Rate (THR). Using your resting heart rate, you can determine your target heart rate which is the rate at which you want to increase your pulse for optimal conditioning while exercising. The American Heart Association has an explanation of the THR and how to calculate it [3]. If your heart rate while exercising is too much above your THR, you may be overstressing your heart. If it is too much below your THR, you may not be benefiting from the exercise. The International Sports Sciences Association [4] illustrates the Karvonen Formula for the THR as follows:

              • Start with the number 220 and subtract your age from it.

              • Subtract your resting heart rate

              • Multiply by 70%

              • Add the resting heart rate back to find your THR

•  Weight

  • As you can imagine, your weight, in the absence of other information is not very meaningful. To be meaningful you have to factor in your height and body composition (muscle vs. fat). I think it is a good idea to log your weight periodically. I log my weight daily when at home. I use the same scale that is in the same location and at the same time every day. I weight myself in the morning. What you will want to do with your weight is to track it to see direction. Obviously if you are “overweight” you will want to see it drop. But weight is not the best measure for this.

•  Waist Circumference

  • We are all probably familiar with measuring our waist. We get a tape measure, wrap it around ourselves right below the protruding belly, exhale as much as possible, pull the tape tight, and try to read it before we pass out. Well, that’s not exactly how we should do it. The tape should go horizontally around our body at the level of the iliac crest (top of the hip bone) and the tape should be snug but not tight. It is probably best to just do it the same way every time so you can measure changes. As a general rule males should have a waist measurement of less than 40 inches and women should be less than 35 inches. Measurements over these numbers can indicate health risks [5].

•  Body Mass Index (BMI)

  • The BMI calculation takes into account both your weight and your height. The problem is that it doesn’t take into account your body composition (muscle vs. fat). According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), “Although BMI can be used for most men and women, it does have some limits:

             • It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.

             • It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle [6].

  • Nevertheless it is a rough measure that can give an indication of your health. If you want to calculate your BMI, you can go to the NHLBI site to use their calculator [7] The BMI standards (not taking into account the exceptions above) are:

             • Underweight <18.5

             • Normal 18.5 – 24.9

             • Overweight 25.0 – 29.9

             • Obese > 30.0 although there are several classes of obesity.

•  Percentage Body Fat

  • This is the gold standard for measuring whether or not you are carrying too much (or too little) fat on your body. I have a Weight Watchers scale that magically measures my percentage body fat. It isn’t the best measurement but it is a good indication. The important thing is to watch the increase or decrease in percentage body fat. Unfortunately the best inexpensive way to measure body fat is with fat calipers. You take the calipers that look like the jaws of a massive beetle and then anesthetize the area to measure, squeeze the roll of fat and measure it. Actually, I’m just kidding but the pinch can hurt a tad. The procedure is to measure the “skinfolds” on several parts of your body – this usually requires some help since it is difficult to squeeze and measure at the same time. You can google “body fat measurement using calipers” to see how it is done. Calipers are inexpensive if you want to do it yourself. These measurements are put into a formula along with age, weight, and gender and you come out with a number indicating how what percentage of your body is lean body mass and how much is fat. Following are the standards:

            • Athletic males have a body fat percentage of 5 – 10. Athletic women have 8 – 15

            • Good for males is 11 – 14 and for women it is 16 – 23.

            • Acceptable is 15 – 20 for males and 24 – 30 for females

            • Anything over these numbers are in the overweight to obese ranges.

  • If you can get this done, it is really the best choice for determining your fitness level with respect to how much fat you are carrying. I’m personally not doing very poorly in this area – if I use the female scale!

In addition to the measurements above, you should be aware of your sense of balance, your ability to move quickly, your ability to move smoothly, and your physical strengths and weaknesses. We will also talk later about calories in and calories out as well as how to balance your meals.

bottom of page