The line between our bodies and the plethora of health data we scrape from ourselves is getting increasingly blurry. With the availability of apps that track our menstrual cycles and watches that can tell how stressed we are, there's pressure to keep tabs on any incremental changes to our health metrics. If we don't, how can we possibly know if we're healthy?
While tracking such metrics can be helpful -- and even fun -- they usually aren't necessary for our health (unless you've been given specific instructions by your doctor, of course). In fact, if you stay tuned in to your body, you'll be able to gauge your well-being through some key patterns.
Here are a few health clues.
This applies to both bowel movements and menstrual cycles (for people that have one). Just like the nonexistent hands on our smartwatches, our bodies like to keep a rhythm.
Having at least one bowel movement a day is a good sign that your digestive system is working properly, and anywhere from three a week to three a day is considered normal. Regular bowel movements may also be signs of a healthy gut microbiome. Some researchers believe we're just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding how connected that microbiome is to our other body systems. (Bonus points if you normally go around the same time each day.)
On the other hand, painful or infrequent bowel movements could be signs of constipation, which may signal a lack of some key nutrients that your body needs to move things along, like fiber or water. In some cases, simple tweaks to your diet could help your body find its rhythm. You might also find that adding more physical activity into your routine can positively affect your bowel movements. If you check all those boxes, a health condition such as irritable bowel syndrome may be at play, which should prompt you to make a doctor's visit to find the root cause.
Another pattern: Regular menstrual cycles (occurring each month between 24 and 35 days) are not only a sign of reproductive health and regular ovulation, but they're also a signal that your hormones are balanced. Hormonal imbalances can be a product of stress (which has a myriad of effects on well-being), over-exercising or illness, like thyroid disease. For people who menstruate, the monthly cycle can be one of the first things thrown off track when there's a disruption in the carefully orchestrated hormonal dance.
Missed periods in people who haven't it could be a sign that you're not eating enough. Your body needs enough calories and nutrients to have a healthy menstrual cycle, and people who are underweight or have an eating disorder may temporarily lose their period.
Note: While you're taking hormonal birth control pills or have a hormonal IUD, your body doesn't follow a "normal" ovulation pattern, which means your menstrual cycle is dependent on a different hormonal balance and a missed or late period may not be a big deal at all, health-wise. (This is especially true for IUDs that stop your periods, or if you choose to skip your inactive or placebo pill week in your birth control pack.) Still, a missed period could mean pregnancy, so you should get checked out if you're concerned.
Most days, you wake up feeling well-rested
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep for optimal health. And while there's no shortage of reasons why many people are behind on their sleep, or even chronically sleep deprived, lack of sleep contributes to a variety of social and health problems, including hormonal imbalances, mood issues and even a greater risk of a heart attack.
If you're feeling sluggish, foggy or just plain tired many days, a more refreshed feeling might come after a schedule change or stress reduction. But if you're getting at least 7 hours and feel you should be a lot more energized than you really are, it could signal a more serious health problem such as sleep apnea or a nutrient deficiency like iron. If that's the case, make an appointment with a health care provider to get to the bottom of it.
A little morning or onion breath is par for the course and your breath might be a little off if you're dehydrated. But a weird taste or smell in your mouth during the day after you've already brushed your teeth could be a sign something is up.
"Fresh breath is a good indication that your gut health is balanced," Dr. David Borenstein of Manhattan Integrative Medicine told The Healthy.
"For example, overly fruity smelling breath can be an indication of diabetes, foul-smelling breath can be associated with reflux, a fishy smell could mean kidney failure, a sour mouth can be a sign of sleep apnea," he said.
Like our gut microbiome, there's evidence that suggests a disruption in the microbiome in our mouths can affect our health in more general ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, poor oral health (including tooth decay or gum infections) could increase your risk for developing heart problems, pregnancy complications or even pneumonia.
Your urine is pale yellow
Urine that's pale yellow is a clear indication that you're hovering around a healthy level of hydration, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Drinking enough water is one of the easiest ways to keep your body healthy, as hydration aids important processes like regulating body temperature, preventing infections and improving cognition (hello, dehydration brain fog). So if you normally pee a lighter shade of yellow as opposed to a strong, dark color, you can find some peace that your body is getting enough water. How much you need, of course, varies by many factors including activity level.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.