Measuring Results — Part One: The Basic
Why the scale doesn’t matter, improving how we track progress, analyze results, and feel good about our journey.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” - Benjamin Franklin
Why measure progress?
With the goal in mind of not only a longer life but also achieving a higher quality of life within those additional years, there are certain metrics, or key performance indicators (KPIs), that can help us measure progress.
Just like you wouldn’t drive without a dashboard to determine how fast you’re going or how much gas is left, it’s important to look at certain KPIs to evaluate our health.
A car’s speedometer displays speed based on how hard you press the gas pedal; these indicators spit out feedback based on how you pull the five levers, or more specifically each sub-lever, of longevity.
By deploying a combination of the tools mentioned here, we can better understand and quantify where we are now and then track improvements over time. As we integrate more tools, and importantly more accurate tools, the overall picture of our health becomes increasingly clear.
This article is part one of a two-part series. We’ll cover the basic, easily understandable, and accessible tools today and more advanced and in-depth tools in part two. Let’s dive in.
Look in the mirror
It’s critical to be in touch with your body and this starts by becoming intricately familiar with how you look and feel. Try to notice changes in body fat, muscle mass, skin abnormalities, how you feel in the morning versus night, before versus after a workout, when eating healthy versus after downing a pint of ice cream, and so on.
Although this is considered a blunt tool, being able to read your body (when to exercise versus when to rest, what foods you feel best while eating, etc.) and notice when something is off is extremely valuable.
Apart from becoming familiar with changes in your body composition (muscle and fat), energy levels, and overall physical and mental state, being more in touch with your body can be the difference between catching an illness or disease, such as cancer, early and extinguishing it fast or not noticing anything’s wrong until it's too late.
Take a picture
A picture provides a useful snapshot in time so we can appreciate how far we’ve come. Since we’re with ourselves every day, it can be difficult to appreciate change over time as we’re experiencing gradual, and sometimes difficult to notice, improvements. Take a picture now and see how you compare in the months and years to come. It’s fun to look back and a great way to measure the progress you’ve made.
Keep a journal
I love writing for two reasons. The first being it provides a record and a story of my life. In 20 years, I can flip back and see how I was feeling, what I was doing, and who I was with on any given day.
The second is that writing is effectively thinking on paper. Writing forces us to improve how we think by crystallizing our thoughts and ideas. Over time, our thought process and decision-making strengthen as we write more, leading to more mindful and better executed days.
Keeping a log of your health and fitness (tracking exercise, what you eat, sleeping patterns, how you feel, etc.) will provide something to revisit and compare what your life was like a month or a year ago to what it’s like now.
If you look and feel better now, you can associate those changes with the positive habits you’ve adopted and begin to better understand the things you can do which make you feel strong, lean, and full of energy!
In addition, writing down the things that you plan to do that day as if they’ve already happened like exercise, eating healthily, or not overeating, conditions your mind and increases the likelihood you’ll actually do them.
Step on the scale
Another blunt tool, but it can serve a purpose in tracking general trends of your overall weight. A few notes on scale usage:
It’s a snapshot in time. Your weight may fluctuate +/- 6lbs on any given day. This is dependent on the time of day, exercise, diet, and many other contributing factors. Even if you weigh yourself in a consistent manner, for example, each morning before eating or drinking anything, your weight could still differ due to reasons ranging from an increased amount of sodium intake or the timing of your meals the day before.
It doesn't consider body composition. If you lose 5lbs of fat in favour of 5lbs of muscle, your weight hasn’t changed but your body composition has improved. This point is REALLY important. Far too many people get caught up in worrying about small fluctuations on a scale. The number you see each morning should not be indicative of your mood or how you feel about yourself. Come back to asking yourself the questions: How do I look? How do I feel?
Don’t worry about the number. All scales differ. The number the scale spits out doesn’t really matter. If the scale says you weigh 700lbs on Day 1 but 695lbs on Day 30 AND you physically notice that you’ve lost some fat and gained muscle, that’s progress. We’re looking for trends in the number that the same scale spits out over time. Don’t get caught up in the number itself. Again, come back to gauging progress based on how you look in the mirror and how you feel in your clothes.
Improvements in Fitness
Are you lifting heavier weights? Running for longer or faster? Jumping higher? Able to touch your toes? No longer out of breath walking up three flights of stairs or going for that run? Awesome, that’s progress.
If you want to further quantify fitness improvements, you can measure progress by tracking weights, times, and reps in your journal or by using some sort of tracking app or fitness wearable.
Body Fat Caliper
This tool sits at the intersection of the cheapest and easiest way to measure body fat percentage. I‘m not of the belief that it’s necessary to quantify changes in body fat but, nonetheless, if you want an additional metric it may be of interest to you. I won’t go into any detail as there are plenty of YouTube videos explaining how to perform these measurements with a caliper.
When shopping for a caliper, don’t make the same mistake as my brilliant friend did and buy a vernier caliper (used on inanimate objects in labs and manufacturing plants)... it’ll hurt.
This tool is commonly used to measure bone density as well as body composition, which is how much of your body is made up of lean mass versus fat. A DEXA Scan is considered one of the most accurate and comprehensive body composition tests.
This technology has become widely available through clinics popping up in and around most developed cities. Obtaining a DEXA scan at certain intervals (i.e., quarterly, semi-annually, annually) allows you to accurately track progress over time. Make sure to price them out in advance as going for multiple scans a year can add up.
For a deeper dive, check out the article I wrote titled DEXA Scans: My Results & Three Elements Essential to Longevity. I explain the utility of DEXA Scans, how to understand the results, and provide actionable strategies to improve three areas central to longevity.
Similar to a DEXA Scan, a BodPod will measure your body composition by spitting out your bone density, body fat percentage, and lean mass. They are purportedly more accurate than the DEXA Scan and although I’ve yet to try one, I’m curious how the results stack up.
Check out this article to better understand why these three markers are crucial to improving both our lifespan and healthspan and for simple yet effective ways to improve each.
Onwards and Upwards
If I had a gun to my head and could only choose one of these means of measuring progress, it would undoubtedly be keeping a journal. Through keeping a daily journal, I’ve been able to understand my body and what makes me feel good or bad at a much deeper level.
I know how to make small adjustments in my daily habits to get back on track if I feel like I’ve put on a little fat or am losing some strength in the gym. If I’m having a down day, I know the foods I need to eat and the exercise I need to perform to clear my head and hit refresh.
With that, I encourage you to take up the practice of keeping a journal for yourself. In becoming more in touch with your mind and body, you yield great power over your ability to control how you feel and thus improve each day.
And, as always, please give me feedback on Twitter or by hitting reply to this email.
Jack, this is a great compilation of quantitative and qualitative tools. I really appreciate how you've outlined a form of goals that doesn't have to do with just quantitative improvements. In today's day and age, there seems to be a hyperfixation on specific numbers on a scale or on our bodies, which can feel reductive or like it misses the point. Instead, having a goal of something like "feeling stronger" and using the measurement system you've outlined of "improvements in fitness" seems like it's a much more accessible approach. With that being said, though, for some people, numbers are certainly helpful, and it's awesome that you've covered both sides for your readers to choose for themselves.
Thanks for sharing all these tools! I especially like your emphasis on getting to know your body and noticing things like how you feel overall, your energy level, how you look in the mirror, how your clothes fit and placing more importance on that then things like numbers on a scale-- which can be good for overall trends, but fluctuate SO much day to day. I appreciate this holistic lens!