10 Health Stats You Can—and Should—Measure At Home
- Vital signs are measurements of the body’s basic functions, and wearable trackers make knowing these stats easier than ever.
- Variations from the normal range can suggest a health problem and should be checked out by a healthcare professional.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who doesn’t have a tracker wrapped around his wrist these days: according to a 2020 report from the Pew Research Center, about one in five Americans use a smartwatch or fitness tracker. This makes sense, given the wearable gizmos’ capabilities. The devices—depending on the model’s complexity—can offer a data-driven deep dive into your health and fitness, making it easier than ever to monitor normal vital signs and take wellness into your own hands.
Wearable tech—whether you track with a ring, watch, or wristband—can provide insight on everything from sleep habits to heart rate to exercise. Being aware of these metrics helps track overall health, says Sera Sabharwal, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York City. And when you’re aware of what’s normal, you can take action to address it if the numbers wobble.
10 Normal Vital Signs You Should Know
What should you track, and what range is considered the norm? There are dozens of numbers you could keep track of, but these 10 stats are a good place to start. Here’s what’s normal for these vital signs—and when they suggest something might be amiss.
1. Body Temperature
Body temperature is an especially crucial number to keep an eye on right now, since having a fever—clinically that’s any number over 100.4 F— is a common symptom of coronavirus. Fevers are a sign that your body is fighting an infection, and, so can be a red flag for an almost endless list of illnesses. Among the most common: an upper respiratory infection, influenza, and pneumonia.
The average normal body temperature for an adult is 98.6 F, but family physician Nick Dahl, D.O., notes that some people tend to run a degree or two warmer or colder, so don’t stress if your healthy normal is slightly above or below this number.
Sabharwal recommends checking your temperature only if you feel feverish or experience other related symptoms like a cough, sore throat, or nasal congestion. When you do check it, be wary of contactless thermometers—forehead-reading models, in particular, can give a falsely elevated reading, says Dhal, especially if you happen to be sitting by a warm lamp or just broke a sweat at the gym. A classic under-the-tongue or inner-ear model is your best bet.
While COVID looms, any number over 100.4 F warrants getting a COVID test and seeing your doctor, says Dahl, especially if symptoms persist over multiple days.
2. Resting Heart Rate
Having a good understanding of how quickly your heart beats while you’re resting—and more importantly, noticing when it rises—can help identify when your body is under stress. “A normal resting heart rate is about 60 to 100 beats per minute,” says Sabharwal. More active guys, such as athletes, maintain a slightly higher average.
To get an accurate resting heart rate reading, consistency is key, which is why Dahl recommends a wearable tracking device—like an Apple Watch or Garmin Fēnix—rather than one that’s used periodically. “It’s going to give you the best, most consistent average,” he explains.
If your resting heart rate (keyword: resting) shoots up unexpectedly by 10 to 15 beats per minute and stays that way for a few days or longer, Dahl says you might be getting sick or have overdone it at the gym. You may also be exhausted or under too much mental stress. If the number creeps into triple digits, you could have a more serious medical issue and should see a doctor. “Anything above 100 is abnormal and you need to see a doctor,” urges Dahl.
3. Heart Rate Variability
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures the amount of time between heartbeats and is suggestive of good heart health. HRV is controlled by competing branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS): the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic slows your heart rate with processes like rest and digestion, and the sympathetic speeds it up with processes like stress and exercise. Ideally, your body wouldn’t overuse either one.
Sabharwal explains that a balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic gives a high HRV, and a low HRV means that one of them is dominating operations—a clear sign that your body is stressed (i.e. overworked or sick).
Even too much exercise can throw off the number: Working out activates your sympathetic nervous system, speeding up your heart, and if you go too hard, too often, the parasympathetic has less chance to slow things down, throwing the ANS off-balance and thereby lowering your HRV.
“Your heart is made to be variable,” explains Dahl. “But if you overtrain, that variability never goes down because your body is stressed.”
Like resting heart rate, average HRV is highly individualized. Sabharwal says it varies widely with age—younger people typically have higher numbers whereas older people tend to see lower ones.
According to user data from the fitness tracker Whoop, a normal range for ages 20 to 25 is between 55 and 105ms, whereas the range for ages 60 to 65 is between 25 and 45ms. Because the range is so wide, instead of aiming for a particular figure, it’s best to track HRV over time so you know your baseline when you feel good, Dahl says. “Then if it changes, you will recognize the change.”
Monitoring HRV at home is a fairly new concept, and further research is warranted to understand its efficacy. However, some of the latest fitness trackers—like Whoop and Oura Ring—include it as a feature.
4. Blood Pressure
Nearly half of people in the United States have hypertension, aka high blood pressure, says Sabharwal. That means that the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. Your blood pressure reading is given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and involves two numbers. The top number (systolic pressure), measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic pressure), measures the pressure in your arteries between beats.
What’s considered a normal vital sign here? For adults, having a systolic pressure under 120 and a diastolic pressure under 80 is considered normal. If the top number inches up above 130 and the bottom number is 80 or above, your blood pressure is considered high, which puts you at an increased risk for a slew of diseases.
“Elevated blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and peripheral vascular disease,” says Dahl. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to check your blood pressure often, especially because hypertension shows little signs or symptoms and is known as a “silent killer.”
There are several different at-home blood pressure monitors on the market. Dahl says most of them are good, as long as the arm cuff fits snugly, but not too snugly. “If the cuff is too small, it will give you a falsely elevated reading, or if it’s too big, it’ll give you a falsely low reading,” he explains. When it’s time for a check, Dahl recommends sitting in rest for five minutes before allowing your blood pressure to normalize.
If you’re younger than 40, Dahl says it’s safe to check your blood pressure as little as twice per month. If you have a heart condition or are on blood pressure medication, check it twice per week. The sweet spot to aim for is below 120/80. “If you’re consistently above that,” says Dahl, “you need to see your doctor.”
Monitoring your vital signs helps you take wellness into your own hands.
5. Hours of Quality Sleep
So many factors affect sleep—alcohol, stress, lifestyle—and there’s a huge difference between barely dozing off and engaging in quality, restorative rest. “You may be in bed for eight hours, but if you’re only getting five hours of sleep and had two beers before you went to bed—that all messes with your sleep cycle,” explains Dahl. Enter: morning brain fog, a lackluster gym day, low energy—the works.
Although most wearable fitness devices track sleep, some provide better insight into its quality. You want one that at least documents sleep cycles (one cycle is a completion of all four stages of sleep), how often you wake up, and your movement—all of which contribute to restorative sleep and how rested you feel every morning.
The optimal amount of restorative sleep varies from person to person, says Dahl. Tracking your sleep—especially the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, which helps mental concentration, mood regulation, and more—in conjunction with daily habits and energy levels will help you make the necessary routine adjustments to begin seeing nightly improvements.
Dahl points out that watches are great, but wearing one in bed often creates charging limitations. That’s why he recommends the Oura ring, which takes a maximum of 80 minutes to power up.
If you tweak your habits (i.e. cut out alcohol and caffeine) and sleep remains poor—meaning you simply don’t wake up refreshed or your tracker indicates a lack of the recommended four to six sleep cycles per night— it may then be time for a check-up to rule out health conditions like sleep apnea, which is very underdiagnosed but can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
Related: Here’s Exactly How Much Deep Sleep You Need, According to Experts
6. Testosterone Level
Countless men in America are plagued by low energy, a tanked libido, and trouble sleeping. Many of them could have low testosterone and don’t know it, Dahl says. Low T is a highly underdiagnosed condition—as many as 39 percent of men aged 45 and older suffer from it, and that number is likely higher because few men talk about it with their doctors.
That’s why it’s vital to track your T levels and to know what’s normal for this vital sign, whether or not you have any of the symptoms of low T.
“Low T is associated with low bone density,” Dahl explains, especially in older men. On the flip side, he says, normal T levels (including those supplemented with testosterone replacement therapy) are linked to fewer heart attacks, fewer strokes, and decreased risk of obesity. Corrected T levels may also help with fertility by optimizing your hormones and therefore your sperm count.
Hone offers a comprehensive at-home test that, via a simple mail-in process, measures not just your testosterone, but various other biological markers related to T production including luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), albumin, and more. Hone’s testing kit also comes with everything you need to safely collect a blood sample (which research shows is a more reliable testing method (1) than saliva) and get accurate results.
Upon receiving your kit, collect your sample between 8 and 10 a.m, since testosterone fluctuates throughout the day. Everyone’s optimal levels are slightly different, but an ideal T level one is above 450 ng/dL. Most experts agree that anything below 300 ng/dL is too low and warrants medical attention.
Related: The Benefits of Testosterone Replacement Therapy
7. V02 Max
V02 Max measures how fast your body absorbs oxygen while exercising. The higher your rate, the more oxygen your body can consume and the more energy it can create. “It’s sort of a surrogate for, ‘How in shape are you?’” says Dahl.
Professional athletes might undergo testing on a treadmill or exercise bike attached to a machine that analyzes expired air, but most people don’t have access to that. Wearable devices like the Apple Watch are beginning to track V02 Max, though—the only caveat being their numbers may not be “terribly accurate,” Dahl says. However, when compared against their own measurements over time, they can still give you a consistent baseline of your fitness.
Why does this stat matter? One 2018 study published in Frontiers in Bioscience found that an improved V02 Max can help you live longer (2). A higher V02 Max also comes with decreased risk of heart attack and stroke, plus, it’ll increase your stamina at the gym.
A normal vital sign measurement of V02 Max for an average man is 35 to 40, so you might aim to get yours above that. If yours is consistently below 35, a doctor visit isn’t necessary, but being more active certainly is.
8. Body Mass Index (BMI)
Knowing your Body Mass Index (BMI)—which is calculated using your height and weight—is crucial to understanding your overall health. “Most people have a range for weight where they feel fit and agile,” explains Sabharwal. “Deviation from that range makes them feel fatigued and sluggish.” The healthy average BMI for men is between 18.5 and 25.
A BMI above 30 is considered overweight, which poses an increased risk for heart attack, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, body pain, and more.
BMI isn’t a flawless model, since it can’t distinguish between fat and muscle (many muscle-bound athletes have a BMI that would be considered obese for this reason), but it’s easy to measure, and less likely to yield error-skewed results than other methods, so it’s still a number worth monitoring, says Dahl.
There are plenty of BMI calculators online that you can use to gauge yours, or you can grab a body composition scale that calculates it for you. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to be consistent and track daily (ideally in the morning, fasted) to get the most accurate results.
If your weight ever fluctuates unintentionally—for example, if you’re losing weight without a change in diet or exercise, or are gaining weight despite exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, it should be brought to the attention of your physician.
9. Body Fat Percentage
In combination with BMI, tracking your body fat percentage—which is exactly what it sounds like, the percentage of fat in your body—with a smart scale can help you know your risk for developing certain health conditions. (There are calculators for it, too.)
A “normal” vital sign for BMI is a range: Anywhere from 18 to 25% body fat is average for men. “Once you get above 25%, your risk of heart attack and stroke goes way up, as does your risk of low T,” Dahl says. Like BMI, it’s best to track daily, in the morning if you can.
If you find yourself seeing a less than ideal number, schedule an appointment with your doctor, who can help establish a diet and exercise plan that will push you toward your goals.
10. Steps (and Activity in General)
While hyper-specific breakdowns of individual health stats like heart rate and V02 Max are a great way to get to know your body, so is a more broad documentation of your physical activity, like measuring your daily steps. It’s the simplest marker for how active you are, and in some cases, perhaps how much more active you can be, says Dahl.
Most fitness trackers—and even most smartphones, if you carry one all day—can count your steps. Others also encourage you to stand enough throughout the day. “It’s good to move. It’s good to not sit down all day,” says Dahl. One 2018 study (3) found that excessive sitting almost doubles the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It also contributes to impaired joint mobility and back pain.
Your goal: log 10,000 steps per day, and stand up every two hours for at least five minutes. Regular exercise—at least 30 minutes five times a week—improves your overall health, Sabharwal says, and reduces your risk for developing diseases like hypertension and diabetes.
“If you notice that you have a decreased ability to exercise or it takes you longer than usual to exercise the same amount you were able to a few months ago,” she adds. “That is something you should bring up to your physician.”
The Bottom Line