Numbers You Need to Know Other Than Your PR
Often talking to a runner can sound like your standing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with the amount of numbers flying out of their mouths. Between Personal Records (PRs), splits, distances, their most recent race recount and the speed work they did that week, it could make some people’s eyes glaze over.
We have all these times and distances memorized that are extremely important to us and to our running career but can we recite the other numbers that are equally important to our health? The honest answer is probably no. In order to be healthy and ultimately happy, there are other numbers we should know beyond our PRs and splits.
Blood pressure is the measure of the effort of your heart squeezing blood through your arteries. Basically, it is how hard do you make your heart work to pump blood through your veins. Almost everything affects your blood pressure: what you eat, family history, sleep patterns, exercise habits and a litany of other things. Knowing your blood pressure can help you manage the controllable factors related to how hard your heart is working when it isn’t propelling you to a finish line.
You want to have both your top number or systolic (or beat pressure) and bottom number or diastolic (rest pressure) readings to be in the normal range. If you have high blood pressure you are at increase risk for heart attacks, clots and dementia increase due to the weakening of the extra strain that has been placed on your arteries. Regular monitoring can help you notice any negative changes and allow you to make adjustments as needed like reducing your salt intake or limiting your alcohol, as well as other healthy dietary choices.
Cholesterol is something naturally occurring in your body made by your liver and is something you get from foods you ingest that contain animal products. The best examples of food sources are full fat milks and cheeses, eggs and meat. Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs; any added from outside sources can cause the circulation of extra cholesterol in your blood.
Not only should you be aware of your total cholesterol score, but you should know the breakdown of the total score into good HDLs and bad LDLs. You want a higher number of HDLs to help offset the LDLs. It is important to know the breakdown because you could have an arbitrarily high total score that has been beefed up by your HDLs. It is important to know you cholesterol since it can be a manageable factor in many cardiovascular diseases like strokes and heart disease, even if your high cholesterol is hereditary.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Your BMI is a ratio of your height and weight, often calculated with gender being taken into account. The BMI ratio does not take into account muscle mass and body fat but is a good general indicator of healthy weight. It is important to remember that BMI is not indicative of the health of an individual. BMI is broken down into four categories: underweight, normal, overweight and obese.
Some athletes do not place a large stock in BMI as a very muscular person could have a BMI that reads overweight when, in fact, they are healthy and the ratio is high due to high muscle rather than high body fat. Typically this is not an issue for runners, so this is a cheap and effective guide to monitoring your weight. Ensuring you are in the normal BMI range will help prevent a variety of physical and mental illnesses that can be easily controlled by managing weight.
Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
Knowing your RHR can be fun. If you are consistent about taking your heart rate, it will help tell you if your workouts are helping to increasing your cardiovascular health. The lower it goes the more in shape you are. More importantly than monitoring your training, your RHR can tell you in seconds if things are awry. Ideally, you are going to want to check your RHR at the same time of day and preferably in a relaxed state, before you get out of bed in the morning is a good option. Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiple by 2.
Your RHR can help your find stressors in your life; checking your RHR while encountering miscellaneous activities could help identify unknown stressors and allow you to limit or eliminate them. One of the easiest ways to lower your RHR is with even a small amount of exercise. Knowing your normal RHR will help you notice anomalies in your body when measured on a regular basis and can allow you seek medical treatment when needed.
Age of Preventative Screenings
Unlike some things in life, like bills, we will not get prompted to take care of our health. As young kids our parents took us to get physicals and to our dentist appointments. As young adults, we should have followed suit and had our health monitored regularly. As we age and move into middle age, the preventative screenings and test needs not only grow in number but exponentially grow in importance. Everyone should know that at age 50 a colonoscopy is your birthday present to yourself.
The good news, screenings like these are few and far between and often are reasonably covered by insurance. Women need to make sure they know when to get their first mammogram and bone density screening; men same thing related to testicular and prostate cancer screenings. Each of us has a family and personal history those need to be taken into account when evaluating screening ages. Knowing the age to receive these screenings allow you to get it done early and in some occasions, push out subsequent screenings due to clean bills of health. And, if something is discovered finding it early is the single most helpful factor in overcoming it.
The numbers you need to know aren’t hard and they are not that interesting but they are important. People are often fearful of the unknown and once you become aware of what each number is for you, it can help you better manage your lifestyle choices. Who knows, you may even be able to say you have to run a little more if you want better numbers or run a little less if you are happy with your numbers. Either way, sounds like any number can be a good reason to sign up for a race.