The scale is the go-to measure of health success for 66 percent of respondents in a 2017 study by Shape Scale. Yet the number that you see on the scale is just one measure of health progress, and in many cases it doesn’t even accurately reflect your success. For example, muscle weighs more than fat, so if you’re strength training, but losing inches on your waist, you’ll see a higher number. Suddenly you spin out:
Am I not doing enough?
Do I need to work out more?
I must have eaten too much yesterday.
This is when the scale goes from helpful to hurtful, and leads to stress and anxiety. Not to mention, you miss important fitness milestones that can’t be expressed by your weight. Limitations of the scale includes:
- It doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat
- Scales can have up to a 5 percent margin of error
- Your body weight fluctuates every day, even multiple times a day
- Your body weight is affected by many factors outside of fitness, including sodium intake, water weight and carb intake, among other things
The good news is that you can measure your health progress without the scale. Here are a few ways to do exactly that.
Use a tape measure.
Because muscle weighs more than fat, your measurements might be a better indicator of your health than the number on the scale. Excess fat can lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, kidney disease, pregnancy problems, and various cancers; getting rid of fat reduces your risk of these health issues and diseases.
Use your goals and your own unique body to determine where you’ll measure. Some of the most common measuring areas include:
- Glutes (butt)
- Mid section, above and below the navel
- Upper arms
When measuring, keep the tape loose; don’t pull too tight and measure three times, then take the average. This ensures that you get the most accurate reading. Don’t forget to log the measurements and check again each week, or at least twice a month, to keep tabs on how your body is changing. You may be amazed to see how much the measurements change from month to month.
Track your workouts.
Keeping track of your workouts is a great way to stay motivated and a great indicator of your progress. If you were only working out twice a week 6 months ago, and now attend two yoga classes and two gym sessions each week, that’s progress. You can keep track of your workouts with a calendar or pen and paper, or you can log all of them with an app that’s easy to access. Some of the most popular apps include:
There are two ways to track your workouts: the workout itself, or what you did during the workout, including exercises and reps. The latter is a great way to see progress in strength training and endurance. For example, you may notice that 3 months ago you were only squatting with 10 lbs. and now you’re using the squat machine with 50 lbs. That’s progress, and you don’t want to miss it.
Wear a fitness tracker.
A wearable fitness tracker brings all the convenience of a health tracker right to your wrist. The data it can provide is a also great starting point for tracking progress—Natalie Digate Muth MD says:
“If you’re just starting a weight loss plan, it’s enough to know the number of steps you take each day or how many minutes you were active.” Why? Because these are things that can be easily tracked and scaled as you improve. After you’ve completed your initial goals, you can push harder and compete with yourself to meet new goals.
While tracking apps are cheaper than wearables, they don’t have the extensive features that most fitness trackers do. Not to mention, a 2016 wearables pricing analysis found that you can buy one for just $45. Just be sure that the wearable you choose can track the health stats you care most about, from steps taken to water drunk each day and more.
Your lifestyle has changed.
Your health can radically affect your lifestyle, which is why noticing lifestyle changes is an effective way to track your health. Before you see any physical changes, you may notice some of the following differences in your day-to-day life:
- Walking up and down stairs is easier
- You’re in a better mood
- You’re more energetic
- You’re sleeping better
- It’s easier to do your day-to-day tasks
- You’re able to run around with your kids without being breathless
If you notice any of these changes, add them to a log or as a note in your workout tracker. Look back every few months to see just how far you’ve come.
Step Away From the Scale
The number on a scale is far from the only measure of your health. In fact, there are many better ways to track your progress that will also help you see the other benefits of staying healthy, like having more energy or losing inches around your upper arms. Keep these ideas in mind as you embark on your health journey.