Now that it’s January everybody wants to get back to the gym and start a new diet or exercise health kick of some description whether that’s a detox protocol or simply couch to 5k. For the average person in the UK, anything is better than noting and ideally choosing something you can stick too and get consistent reliable results is optimal.

What I want to discuss with you are the many ways we can track our overall health and progress due to easy access to technology and low priced private tests so that we can take responsibility for our own health not waiting to be reminded by an ongoing symptom.

I have listed below 6 methods of tracking factors relating to our health starting with getting a blood test.

  • Annual blood test

I believe this is something everybody should do at least once a year if you consider your health a priority. What most people do is wait for symptoms to start cropping up before they go to their doctor to investigate further but you can potentially avoid unwanted changes such as nutrient deficiencies like vitamin D is a common one or an increased in cholesterol being another especially as heart disease is still the biggest killer in the UK. You can make positive steps once you’ve identified anything underlying hopefully before it becomes a serious issue needing medication or further invasive treatment by modifying your diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

What I do personally with my clients is use a company called Medichecks who provide a test called sports-hormone check ultravit that gives a comprehensive overview of that client’s health at the time.

The test includes

  • Red blood cell markers
  • White blood cell markers
  • Blood clotting status
  • Kidney markers
  • Liver markers
  • Proteins
  • Markers used to determine diabetes
  • Iron status
  • Cholesterol status
  • Inflammatory markers in the form of CRP-hs
  • Hormonal markers such as thyroid, testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol
  • Vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, Folate, B12 and vitamin D

As you can see there is a lot of information that can be gathered from doing such a test and catching markers out of range early can give a great deal of benefit and potentially prevent imbalances and future illness.

With my clients, I like to test and make any adjustments to their protocol that we deem needed such as exercise intensity/ frequency, sleep, nutritional intake quantities and quality ensuring they have a nutrient dense diet providing them with enough calories to match their energy needs. I always run the protocol by the client’s doctor before implementing the plan, as the client doctor should always remain their primary care provider. Then we run the protocol for 3-6 months and re-test to see how our plan has changed the relevant markers on the test and make adjustments as necessary depending on what we’re working on.

If you get a blood test result come back and it’s all clear then great, feel free to move on and follow your protocol of choice. It’s worth using this test as a baseline and testing in a year’s time to see what effects the chosen protocol has had on you and if anything has changed.

Some areas of a protocol that may impact blood work markers are diet, exercise, sleep, supplementation, and stress. By improving some of these foundational factors which impact health you may see a change in your health with relative ease.

  • Blood pressure

You can buy a blood pressure monitor for as little as £20 or get it checked at your local gym or when you see your doctor next. Having elevated blood pressure can be an early warning sign that you’re not treating your body well and it’s under stress and checking it regularly especially if hypertension runs within the family is a great idea in taking active steps around your healthcare.

Common causes for elevated blood pressure

  • Overweight
  • Family history
  • Lack of exercise
  • Regular drinker/smoker
  • Long-term sleep deprivation

Try adjusting your nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle before you find yourself needing medication to bring your blood pressure down with your doctor’s knowledge. Hypertension is a serious problem and will increase your risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Step count

Devices for tracking our steps have increased in popularity recently and I see this as a great tool to track our non-exercise activity with relative accuracy and consistency. I implement this method with many clients outside of their normal activity i.e. gym sessions to ensure they are keeping active and not letting activity drop subconsciously which can happen when implementing a calorie deficit for weight loss. The body wants to lower it’s output to reserve energy as being in a calorie deficit is taxing on the body so it’s natural reaction is to move less and slow things down. You may not even notice you become more inclined to take the lift instead of the stairs or stay home watching TV instead of going out but these small changes that occur add up.

Having a daily step target ensures that even when in a calorie deficit we have a way in which we can monitor your non-exercise activity and keep on top of our expenditure. Increasing the chances of reaching the desired outcome.

  • Calorie tracking

There are many apps available which you can track your caloric intake all of which essentially do the same job. It is clear in research that if we’re left to eat intuitively then we chronically over consume food, which is the reason that in 2014 62% of the population in the UK was classed as overweight. The is multiple reasons why people overeat from emotional eating, lack of education around food to simply never tracking intake of food and understanding how much they’re actually eating and what foods are highly calorific and low in calories.

It’s clear that to lower body weight we need to eat fewer calories than we need creating a calorie deficit and having a good amount of protein in our diet from either animal or plant-based sources support the process. With such a large percentage of the population classed as overweight, it’s clear that a simple way of improving overall health would be to lose a few extra kilos which can simply be done by monitoring nutritional intake.

  • Weighing Scales

Now that you’ve had a blood test, checked blood pressure, began exercising and tracking your activity outside the gym, and also started to monitor your nutritional intake you can now begin to see what effect it’s having on your overall weight.

Simply using a set of scales will give you an idea whether or not your energy balance goals are being met, as you will begin losing weight if your expenditure exceeds your intake.

The more weight you have to lose there the quicker you will see weight loss occur. If your body fat percentage is in the region of 30% plus then you can often see 2.5 lbs / 1.1kg a week loss in body weight, but if you have less body fat to lose then generally it will happen at a slower rate. Most people should aim for around 1-1.5 lbs / 0.4-0.7kg a week weight loss as an average. Aiming for quicker rates of weight loss isn’t recommended as it can lead to excessive muscle mass loss and needs an excessive calorie deficit to achieve. Having such a calorie deficit simply leads to increased hunger, lack of flexibility with food and poor compliance in the long term.

  • Body fat testing (Skinfold)

Measuring body fat via skin fold is a way of telling us where our body composition is, similar to the BMI scale but skin fold is more accurate as it gives you a percentage of body fat taking into consideration muscle mass which the body mass index does not. For trained individuals, this may be a much better way of testing the level of body fat you’re currently carrying around, but for the untrained population, the BMI scale can still work relatively well as a guide.

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James Rush

James works in functional sports nutrition, looking from an integrative health perspective, merging the fields of sports nutrition and nutritional therapy in an applied way so that both health and performance are considered. James works with his clients to ensure that the best possible health is maintained during off-season, in season, and peaking for events, and everyday life etc. As a healthy client is an optimal performer who carries less stress, injuries and ultimately performs better at their chosen goal. To help give others the education James has gained over the recent years he now teaches nutrition level 3 to aspiring trainers and coaches who wish also to enter the industry. Current physical targets: James currently competes as amateur u105 strongman and aims to be healthy and as pain free as possible.