Health Assessment Measures You Can Do at Home - and Healthy Tips

From the American Council On Exercise with introduction and commentary by Dr. Robert Curtis

Last updated: 1/3/19

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There are a few simple key health assessment measurements and evaluations you can do at home that are easy to perform.

They can help establish a degree of your current health and be part of informing your relationship with your primary health care practitioner.

Namely were talking about blood pressure, waist circumference, and stress levels.

Additionally, this discussion will point out key factors for addressing all three of these issues so you'll not only get informed about how they're assessed but see steps to improvement - inclusive of a whole-food, plant-based diet.

Let's take a look...

Blood pressure assessment and healthy tips

Video transcript...

(Note from Dr. Curtis; I've left this video in play as it explains blood pressure readings in a very simple and understandable way but the guidelines have changed to lower readings for normal on through high blood pressure, that I comment on under Dr. Curtis Commentary, below, but I wanted to leave this video here for its simplicity until an up-to-date version is released.)

One of the measurements your doctor will always take in the office is your blood pressure.

Blood pressure is a number to know, but what does it mean?

A top number, which is called your systolic blood pressure, and the bottom, known as your diastolic blood pressure, and your doctor will give them to you or you'll hear them in the office, as being one number over another.

If your systolic is 120 to 139 or your diastolic is between 80 to 90 you'll be considered to be prehypertensive.

Prehypertensive means exactly that. It happens before the hypertension. That means the doctor's pretty concerned that eventually you might become hypertensive and have that higher number.

So, it's necessary to start making changes now, before you have that increased risk and hypertension occurs as the systolic blood pressure is greater than 140, or the diastolic is greater than 90 on repeated measures. So the key is to know your number and then get that number down and your doctor will work with you to do this.

Now in some cases, people require medications to help with this. It's worth talking about with your doctor. Lifestyle changes can dramatically help to decrease blood pressure.

That means changing the way you eat. Trying to decrease the sodium. A diet high in fruits and vegetables helps to provide some necessary nutrients that are important for heart health and can actually affect blood pressure and help to decrease blood pressure.

And physical activity, whether that's walking, playing a sport, or doing something you enjoy doing, can also help. In fact, many times lifestyle changes; your nutrition and physical activity, can help to make medications either unnecessary or needing much smaller amounts.

... transcript end.

Dr. Curtis commentary...

Since the issuance of the above video, new, stricter guidelines, came into play from the American College of Cardiologists and the American Heart Association as of November of 2017.

This new chart spells it out...

To supplement your primary care relationship you can take your blood pressure at home using automated blood pressure cuffs.

Keep in mind, it's your resting blood pressure you're looking to ascertain. 

So, being well rested, ideally, and at rest during the test, are crucial.

Some good tips to keep in mind for both home and office testing are (excerpted from the Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat of July 20, 2017):

  • Don't drink a caffeinated beverage or smoke during the 30 minutes before the test.

  • Sit quietly for five minutes before the test begins.

  • During the measurement, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your arm supported so your elbow is at about heart level.

  • The inflatable part of the cuff should completely cover at least 80% of your upper arm, and the cuff should be placed on bare skin, not over a shirt.

  • Don't talk during the measurement.

  • Have your blood pressure measured twice, with a brief break in between. If the readings are different by 5 points or more, have it done a third time.

The article goes on to state...

"There are times to break these rules. If you sometimes feel lightheaded when getting out of bed in the morning or when you stand after sitting, you should have your blood pressure checked while seated and then while standing to see if it falls from one position to the next.

Because blood pressure varies throughout the day, your doctor will rarely diagnose hypertension on the basis of a single reading.

Instead, he or she will want to confirm the measurements on at least two occasions, usually within a few weeks of one another.

The exception to this rule is if you have a blood pressure reading of 180/110 mm Hg or higher. A result this high usually calls for prompt treatment.

It's also a good idea to have your blood pressure measured in both arms at least once, since the reading in one arm (usually the right) may be higher than that in the left.

A 2014 study in The American Journal of Medicine of nearly 3,400 people found average arm-to-arm differences in systolic blood pressure of about 5 points.

The higher number should be used to make treatment decisions."

Dr. Curtis, again...

The good news on this blood pressure and cardiovascular health front is that a whole-food, plant-based diet has been shown to be helpful. [1]

Waist circumference assessment and healthy tips

Video transcript...

One measure that probably won't be taken at the doctor's office, but that you should know, when you're knowing your numbers, is your waist circumference.

What waist circumference does, is it's a measurement around your waist, and that is a better predictor than body mass index in helping to decide or determine if there's concern about weight.

A waist circumference of greater than about 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men increases the risk of health problems like increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of type two diabetes.

All those things that we're worried about when we're talking about having too much weight.

So whether your doctor measures it at the office or you do it at home, grab a measuring tape, and find your narrowest area and that will help you just tell better than BMI whether or not you have to be concerned about increased health risk due to weight.

Another measure that we can look at is comparing the waist circumference to the hips circumference.

The hip circumference is the widest area around your buttocks and your hips.

And if you compare a ratio between waist and hip, you'll get a proportion.

You'll get a number, and people who have that higher waist hip ratio are at increased risk for health problems.

Those are people who carry more weight in their abdomen, or you may have heard of them being called apple shaped.

Whereas people who carry most of their weight in their hips, or pear shaped people, actually have a decreased risk of health problems, even if their weight is higher.

Now, the good news for those apple shaped people out there is even though the risk is higher from being apple shaped, it's easier to lose the weight from your mid section versus somebody who's more pear shaped, as they lose weight, it's going to be more difficult, at least to lose weight from that core section.

... transcript end.

Dr. Curtis commentary...

A waist-hip ratio that is above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females demonstrates abdominal obesity according to the World Health Organization.

Some good news here is that, if your waist-hip ratio is on the higher end, a recent study demonstrated you could lose weight on a whole-food, plant based diet eating all that you wanted. [2]

Stress assessment and healthy tips

Video transcript...

Find yourself being irritable or anxious or kind of snapping at someone every time they talk to you or having a low tolerance for the kids or the stresses in your life?

You may be experiencing the physical consequences that come from stress.

The stuff that builds up when you've got so much on your plate, so much going on that your ability to deal with it and to cope with it is decreased.

And then in many cases it can start to manifest itself in physical complaints.

Feeling like your heart is always racing or that you can't talk to anyone because every time you do, you're very mad at them or upset.

It's important if you're feeling that way to just hold on a second and stop and think about the stresses in your life and then try to manage them and try to deal with it.

Now a little bit of stress is good, it can help to increase your heart rate and increase your alertness and get you ready to go.

But chronic stress can cause you to be constantly on edge, constantly feeling like there's something that you can't manage or can't control and can contribute to that hormone causing weight gain and all kinds of other bad things that you don't want.

So think about where you're at in your life and what you can do about managing your stress, whether that's getting other people to support you and help you with some of your responsibilities, taking a little bit lighter load at work, taking that vacation that you've been putting off for weeks and months and years. Getting the spouse to be a little bit more proactive in the household duties or increasing the physical activity in your day and making that time for you.

Whether it's meditation, whether it's Yoga, whether it's just walking, whether it's high intensity exercise, whatever it is that helps you to be able to get back to center and decrease some of that stress in your life, to be able to manage everyday challenges a little bit better.

So if you find yourself feeling on edge and you want to go to the doctor to talk about it, you absolutely should.

And also think about are there things in your life that could be contributing to causing you stress that's manifesting itself in physical complaints?

... transcript end.

Dr. Curtis commentary...

Here again, a whole-food, plant-based diet has been shown to be helpful to mental health in the areas of improving mood and the ability to accomplish goals. [3]


1.  Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Kahleova H, Levin S, Barnard N.  Nutrients. 2017 Aug 9;9(8). pii: E848. doi: 10.3390/nu9080848.

2.  The BROAD study: A randomized controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischemic heart disease or diabetes; N Wright, L Wilson, M Smith, B Duncan & P McHugh.  Nutrition & Diabetes (2017) 7, e256 (20 March 2017) doi:10.1038/nutd.2017.3

3.  The GEICO study: A multi-center randomized controlled trial of a nutrition intervention program in a multi-ethnic adult population in the corporate setting reduces depression and anxiety and improves quality of life; Agarwal U, Mishra S, Xu J, Levin S, Gonzales J, Barnard ND.  Am J Health Promot. 2015 Mar-Apr;29(4):245-54. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.130218-QUAN-72. Epub 2014 Feb 13.

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