Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Home health screening is becoming increasingly popular. In the advent of affordable home health screening devices (see below) more and more people are able to check and monitor important physiological biomarkers – such as blood pressure, resting heart rate and body composition (and even heart variability and blood cortisol levels).
This has empowered people to take control of their health. In addition, for many, it may have brought about a realisation of the importance of monitoring biomarkers so that decisive lifestyle interventions can be implemented in order to mitigate future health problems.
What do I mean by this?
Well, for example, let’s say that you decided to purchase a blood pressure monitor. When you first use it your blood pressure is at a healthy range (120/80) but over time creeps into pre-hypertensive range (125/85 – 134/90). This is a warning that you health is deteriorating and that you are a step or two away from high blood pressure – aka hypertension.
According to the NHS ‘if your blood pressure is too high it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidney and eyes.’ This can lead to heart attacks, stroke and vascular dementia.
So, in a nutshell, ‘Screening is a way of finding out if people are at higher risk of a health problem, so that early treatment can be offered or information given to help them make informed decisions’ (NHS 2021).
The benefits of conducting regular health screening include:
Screening can detect a health problem early, before you have developed any symptoms.
The early detection of burgeoning health problems not only enables you to seek medical intervention before something serious manifests, but also makes treatment more effective.
Screening can provide you with contemporary, actionable information regarding your current state of health.
Home screening enables near instant access to certain physiological biomarkers.
Regular screening enables you to track and monitor your health over time.
The information gleaned from screening can indicate what course of action is needed to be taken so as to avoid future health problems.
Habituating home screening will bring about a conscious awareness of your changing health.
(List adapted from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-screening)
A range of home health screens
Now we will take a look at a range of health screening methods. Each method is accompanied with a testing protocol (how to conduct the test), an overview of the physiological biomarker the method tests and relative strengths and weaknesses.
In addition, where applicable, certain methods feature a link to best testing equipment.
What is tested: Beats per minute – pulse rate/heart rate
Equipment needed: Heart Rate Monitor or Stopwatch
Purpose of test: To determine resting heart rate. A low resting heart rate can indicate an efficient heart and improved stroke volume.
Notes: True resting pulse rates have to be taken in the morning, before getting out of bed and a few minutes after the alarm clock has gone off. There are several factors which elevate heart rate, e.g. caffeine, nicotine, stress, some medications e.g. thyroxin. Thus these are best avoided prior to testing.
Regular aerobic exercise should lead to lowering of the resting heart rate.
Resting heart rate measures the number of contractions – or beats – that the heart makes in one minute. The rate varies from person to person, but a high resting heart rate is typically associated with poor cardiovascular performance.
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There are two positives with measuring resting heart rate. Firstly, the test itself is very easy to conduct. Resting heart rate can be measured merely by placing two fingers on the inside of your wrist and carefully counting the number of beats over 60-seconds. Alternatively, a heart rate monitor (see image above) provides, as long as it’s worn of course, continuous readings morning, noon and night. The second positive of measuring resting heart rate is that the feedback is near instant and can provide you with an accurate insight into the relative health of your heart.
But how many beats per minute constitutes as a healthy range?
Well that depends on a number of factors. For example, the older we get the weaker our heart becomes (which is why it is important to develop good cardiovascular capacity in one’s youth and strive to maintain it into our advanced years). Also, the less active we are the weaker our heart will be which translates to a higher resting heart rate.
However, the good news is, irrespective of how old we are, or how undertrained, we can improve our resting heart rate by engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise and improving our diet and lifestyle (for example reducing alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, avoiding stress).
Below you will find a normative date chart that displays a range of resting heart rates relative to age. After following the test protocol above compare your readings against the chart.
What is tested: Systolic and diastolic pressures are the two measures used to indicate the pressure exerted by the heart and arteries to maintain blood flow in the circulatory system. The readings are taken from the brachial artery, above the elbow.
Systolic Pressure: The pressure of the blood being forced into the arteries, during left ventricle contraction.
Diastolic Pressure: The pressure of the blood in the arteries, during left ventricle diastole (relaxing).
Purpose of test: The systolic reading gives an indication of blood in the arteries as a result of contraction and the diastolic reading of blood pressure in the arteries during the relaxation phase of the heartbeat. The main purpose is to ascertain if an individual has high blood pressure (hypertension) and is at risk if exercising.
The clinically validated Omron X2 Basic is a portable upper arm blood pressure monitor that gives you accurate readings at home for a comprehensive picture of your health status wherever you are. The easy to use features, with the cuff wrap guide and compact design make it easy for you to integrate regular health monitoring into your daily life.
Blood pressure is a term used to describe the strength with which your blood pushes on the sides of your arteries as the heart contracts.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a physiological state where unnecessary strain is put on your arteries and other organs. Hypertension is an indicator of the increased risk of severe health problems. According to the World Health Organisation (2021), ‘Hypertension is a serious medical condition and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. The burden of hypertension is felt disproportionately in low- and middle-income countries, where two thirds of cases are found, largely due to increased risk factors in those populations in recent decades.’
A blood pressure test measures blood pressure thus informing you if you are in or progressing towards a hypertensive state. The positives of this test are that the testing device is cheap and accessible (the product featured cost a mere £30) and the feedback it gives is both highly accurate and is displayed within seconds.
In addition, once the reading has been taken it can be used to track and monitor progression once lifestyle interventions have been implemented – assuming that the readings are on the high side.
Those lifestyle interventions that are recognised by medical science as being the best methods of improving blood pressure include dietary reform, regular exercise, the cessation of smoking and alcohol consumption, the avoidance of stress and removal of sodium from diet.
Below you will find a normative date chart displaying blood pressure ranges.
What is tested: Height and weight for assessing body composition
Purpose of test: To get an indication of physical dimension
Procedure: Height – stand with heels against wall, with bare feet, eyes looking straight ahead. Weight – stand on scales in minimal clothing, ensuring scales are set to zero and standing on a hard, even surface.
The BMI is a value derived from a person’s height and weight. Though the test is generic in scope it is easy to perform and provides an untrained individual with an insight into how they measure up against the National Institute of Health’s weight categorisation system.
However, we mustn’t forget that the BMI is a very generalised measure and consequently cannot account for body types that reside outside the norm. This has led to the rise of criticism by health professionals regarding the accuracy of BMI readings. For example, a study cited in the excellent book Healthy Psychology (2017) demonstrated that 52% of BMI readings were inaccurate. And what was more concerning was that the readings were informing participants that their weight (read ‘fat percentage’) was lower than it in fact was when researchers put the participants through a far more accurate health assessment.
Fortunately, there is a better and even more accessible health assessment tool that can be used either in place of, or to support, the BMI. The WHtR, or Waist-to-Height Ratio, is a simple yet quite effective tool at gauging the health risks of body fat. Dr Greger, in his book How Not To Die, describe the procedure thus:
‘Instead of a scale, grab a simple measuring tape. Stand up straight and take a deep breath, exhale, and let it all hang out. The circumference of your belly (halfway between the top of your hip bones and the bottom of your rib cage) should be half your height – ideally, less. If the measurement is more than half your height, it’s time to start eating healthier and exercising more regardless if your weight,’ (How Not To Die – p120).
What is tested: Subcutaneous adipose tissue (body fat)
Equipment needed: Body Stat Monitor
Purpose of test: To give an indication of body composition. Though not as accurate as the skin fold measurement as it is easier to
Measurement: The theory is that muscle will conduct the electricity (due to water content), while fat will resist the path of the electricity. Therefore the more electricity that comes out of the body, the more muscle a person has.
The bioelectrical impedance analysis is a commonly used method of estimating a person’s body composition, in particular their fat and muscle mass ratios.
The machine works by emitting a weak electrical current which passes through the body. The voltage of the current is measured and used to calculate body composition.
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But what do we mean by body composition?
Body composition refers to the method of compartmentalising one’s corporality into four main components: fat, protein, minerals, and body water. It is an expression of your weight subdivided among the four components which in turn can be used as an indication of your health.
For example, if after conducting a body composition test – such as the bioimpedance or BMI – you discovered that your body fat, as a percentage of overall weight, exceeds the healthy range: currently your body fat comprises 25 percent of your total mass but, at your age, should be under 20%.
The test outcome is informing you that you are carrying unhealthy levels of visceral and subcutaneous body fat and that lifestyle interventions are needed. Being overweight is one of the leading causes of disease, disability and premature mortality: ‘Excess weight puts you at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.’
Perhaps the most salient positive of the bioelectrical impedance tests is that it provides the participant with accurate and near instant feedback. In addition, due to the relative ease of use of the impedance monitor, readings can be taken in seconds and with minimal fuss; thus, body compositional changes can be tracked and compared over time.
However, the bioelectrical impedance test ‘is limited in its ability to distinguish between intercellular and extracellular water,’ (Barry 2020). Consequently the ‘hydration status’ or ‘electrolyte imbalances’ of the participant could adversely impact on the accuracy of readings.
What is tested: Body shape; waist to hip ratio- CHD (coronary heart
Purpose of test: When used with or without height and weight and skin fold measurements, girth measurements can be a useful indicator of changes in body shape and of CHD risks.
Girth measurements are used as body composition indictors. The readings can either be compared against normative data or used as a means of measuring weight loss (or gain) during health and exercise programmes.
Though considered intrusive the girt measurement test is easy to conduct and it provides instant and reliable feedback. Also, the equipment need is both inexpensive and easy to procure.
It's true to say that tracking and monitoring health has never been as easy and as affordable as it is today. Highly accurate, clinically validated home testing devices – such as RENPHO's smart scales – can be procured for as little as £30.
These innovative health screening technologies, and the methods outlined throughout this article, have provided people with a means of taking control of their own health.
Furthermore, the accessibility of health screening has for many brought about a renewed sense of awareness regarding not only the importance of monitoring and maintaining health but also its fragility.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
Greger, M. Stone, G (2017) How Not to Die. USA. Macmillan.
Marks. F, D. Murray. M., Estacio. E. V (2018) Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice (Fifth Edition). SAGE Publications Ltd. UK.
Pizzorno. J, E. Murray. M, T. (2020) Textbook of Natural Medicine. Churchill Livingstone; 5th edition. USA.