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Your body: by the numbers
Jorge Franganillo via Flickr

Talithia Williams, a statistician and professor at Harvey Mudd College, never believes what anyone tells her, unless they have the data to back it up. This is especially true when it comes to her body. In her Ted Talk titled "Own Your Body's Data, she explains why you shouldn't either.

According to Williams, understanding the data behind your health will not only help you identify your own health conditions, it can also help doctors diagnose and treat you. She gives the example of her own pregnancy to illustrate her point. By simply taking her temperature everyday during the time over which she and her husband were attempting to conceive, she was able to recognize that, at one point, she actually conceived and then had an early stage miscarriage. Had she not noticed the irregular spike in her body temperature, a natural reaction to conception, and the subsequent return to normal, she likely would have never realized that she had miscarried at all. Because she had the data, she went to her doctor to discuss the problem and how it could be prevented in the future.

Below I provide a little information about your body, by the numbers, in order to help you "own your body's data."

Blood pressure: It is likely that your doctor takes your blood pressure every time you go in for an appointment, but do you know what it should be or why they check it? When your blood pressure is taken, two numbers are given as a result, one above the other. The top number is the systolic pressure, or the amount of pressure exerted on your arteries each time your heart beats.The lower number is the diastolic pressure, the pressure exerted on your arteries between heartbeats. A normal range blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. High blood pressure causes heart disease, kidney damage, and can even lead to heart attack or stroke. Low blood pressure is less dangerous, although sometimes it can lead to symptoms like dizziness, fainting, and nausea. It is especially important to know your blood pressure because high blood pressure has no significant symptoms. But left untreated, it can have serious consequences for your health. Learn more about blood pressure from the American Heart Association here.

Heart rate: Your heart rate is a quick and easy number to keep track of, and it can help determine your heart health. While the healthy resting heart rate varies by age, the normal range is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. The lower your heart rate, the healthier your heart is. Knowing your heart rate is also important when exercising. You can improve your workouts by keeping your heart rate in the "target heart rate zone" for your age group. If your heart rate while working out is higher than the target, you're making your heart work too hard, and you should tone it down until your heart gets stronger. If your heart rate is below the target, you should push yourself a little harder. Check out the American Heart Association's chart to determine your target heart rate zone and learn more.

Body mass index (BMI): This number is an indicator of whether or not you are in a healthy weight range, given your height. The number is used to determine if you are at risk for weight related problems. For adults, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything less than 18.5 is considered "underweight" and anything over 29.9 is considered obese. It's easy to calculate your BMI, you can even do it on the internet using BMI calculators like the one on the CDC website.

Basal metabolic rate: your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories your body needs to operate at rest. In other words, it is the baseline number of calories your body needs to survive. In order to determine how many calories you should consume to do more than just survive, (i.e. go to work, chase your kids, exercise), you need to multiply your BMR by another number, which differs depending on your daily activities. You can see the formula and calculate your BMR here. It is important to know your BMR in order to determine how many calories you need to eat to meet your weight goal, whether it is gaining weight, losing weight, or simply maintaining a healthy weight.

All these numbers are quick and easy to calculate, but they offer significant insight into the condition of your body. If you can, as Williams says, "own your body's data, you can take control of your health as well.

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