Management guru Peter Drucker is well-known for the maxim, “If don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” There’s a corollary I stumbled upon in my Total Quality Management studies that suggests if you do measure it, it will tend to improve. The idea is that just drawing attention to an issue is often enough to cause people to address it.
This can also be applied to one’s personal health and thus I’ve started measuring stuff. It probably doesn’t work for everyone, but if you are the kind of person who strives for 10 out of 10 in Facebook quizzes, holds your breath for 60 seconds or checks your pulse during business meetings, or engages in other frivolous games with yourself, it might.
Weight is so central—both an indicator and a driver of health—that it’s well-worth shining a light on. Face the reality of the scale every day. Doing so creates the little voice in the back of your head that quietly reminds you when faced with the dessert menu that tomorrow morning you will also have to face the numbers. It’s good to have some goal in mind. An excellent internist advised me years ago to pick a number that triggers red flashing lights and sirens. In my case, a nice, round 200 works very well. If I find myself approaching that threshold (which, by the way, I had blown past by my late thirties): Whoop, whoop…flash, flash, it’s a sobering condition red.
I no longer count every calorie, but as discussed in another posting, that’s a great practice, both to steer daily behavior and to educate you on the goods and bads of what you are putting into your system. Doing it for a few months is enough to give you a practical sense for what foods fit your dietary needs and which ones are better to avoid.
I never jumped on the FitBit, but as soon as my iPhone started counting steps, I began mildly obsessing over getting in 10,000 steps every day. This has clearly modified my behavior. I have cranked up the mileage on my runs, walk to someone’s desk at work rather than texting, and just yesterday, took the dog for another walk in the late afternoon, because I was sitting about 7,500 steps. As with anything, one can go overboard. And the reality is, I fall short, sometimes way short, a day or two a week, but being mildly obsessed with one’s health is a positive.
Most experts agree that for a male two drinks a day on average and never going above four are good guidelines. Knowing that I occasionally deviate, I started measuring using a simple iPhone app. It requires me to log in every drink which is a little bit of hassle, but manageable for the mildly obsessed. I’m positive that the act of measuring has caused me to drink less over the last couple of months. Having misbehaved a bit last weekend and to create some buffer for this weekend, I turned teetotaler for Sunday – Wednesday to get my 14-day average down.
I hope for and expect technology to enable more and easier health measurement. I would love to have the phone in my pocket vibrate whenever my blood sugar spikes a little. Last fall I experienced the joys of a kidney stone. Now I must avoid oxalates (spinach, almonds, and other otherwise healthy foods), up my calcium intake slightly, and drink a lot of lemon water to achieve a balance of chemicals in my blood that avoids the formation of stones. It drives me crazy that I can’t see how I’m doing; I’m shooting in the dark. The next measurement will not be for six months, a back-looking urinalysis, CAT scan and ultrasound. Boy would I love to have a real time graph on my phone, but I’d settle for a home urine test.