There’s a fundamental set of health and lifestyle rules that can apply to all of us. Getting enough sleep, eating plenty of vegetables and not smoking are universally considered to be good health habits. Every person’s body is different, however, and requires its own set of health and fitness guidelines.
A health journal is a daily log that includes things like what you eat and drink, how long you sleep, what kind of physical activity you engage in and more. It can also track how you feel each day and if you experience anything like an upset stomach or fatigue.
Here are some reasons why you should consider keeping a health journal, along with some tips for how to do it.
Why Keep a Health Journal?
Keeping a health journal can be beneficial to your health for a number of reasons, which can include:
- Obtaining the right health coverage
Health insurance plans can come with a variety of benefits, and a journal can help you identify what sorts of coverage you may want to look for in a plan. For example, if you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Medicare Advantage plans often cover things like prescription medications, vision care, hearing care, fitness programs and more. A health journal can allow you to better pinpoint your unique health care needs.
- Helping you notice patterns
Do you get the occasional skin rash? Do you sometimes have trouble falling asleep? By having visibility into daily health aspects such as what you ate or how much time you spent in the sun, you can identify patterns and find possible connections between your lifestyle and your health.
- Providing you with a baseline
If you want to cut down on carbs or drink more water, a journal can help you evaluate your current habits and use them as a baseline that you can use to track your progress. You can’t improve what you can’t measure.
- Holding you accountable
Keeping a record of how many candy bars or alcoholic drinks you consume can help keep you accountable and prevent you from falling into repeated bad habits.
- Managing chronic conditions
A health journal can be especially helpful to anyone with a chronic condition where it’s vital to monitor symptoms and properly juggle medications.
How to Keep a Health Journal
A health journal is an effective way of keeping tabs on your body and tailoring a plan that’s right for you. Maintaining a health journal does not have to require a huge investment of time.
Here’s what you can include in your health journal and how to do it.
At the beginning of your journal, record some basic information such as:
- Height and weight
- Blood type
- Known allergies
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Current conditions or diseases
- Past and present medications taken
- Past surgical procedures
This basic information serves as a quick and easy reference for both yourself and your doctor.
Family health history
Detail what you know about your family’s health history, particularly issues such as cases of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s or anything else that may be hereditary. Note which side of the family each case was on, who had the condition and when.
Once the above information is complete, the next step is to record notes for each day. Begin each entry with the date (and note if it was a work day or not). Then include the following:
- What you ate and drank
List what you consumed for each meal and any snacks throughout the day. Record how much you consumed of each item and at what time. You may also want to list the amount of carbs, grams of fat or any other measurement of what you consumed.
Did you take anything like aspirin or cold medicine? If so, at what time of day?
- Your sleep schedule
Estimate the time at which you fell asleep and what time you woke up. Also rate your quality of sleep using a number or letter grading system. A Fitbit watch can be helpful for logging your sleep records.
- Physical activity
Jot down any physical activity you engaged in, whether it was just a brisk walk on your lunch break or a full-blown gym workout. Record the time of day the activity began and concluded and track the estimated amount of calories you burned, if that information is available.
- How you feel
Do you feel tired or energized? Did you experience any pains, headaches or an upset stomach during the day? Record anything that was out of the ordinary and detail when it began and ended.
- Your stress level
Use a number or letter grading scale to record your overall stress level for the day.
- Medical appointments
Note if you had any doctor or dentist appointments. If so, what was the appointment for and what did you talk about with your health care provider?
- Your weight
Once a week, weigh yourself and record your weight in that day’s journal entry.
Using Your Health Journal
Once you have a significant number of daily journal entries, you can begin to put it to use.
- When you’re feeling a certain way, dig back through your journal to find the previous times you felt that way. Compare notes from those days and look for any common notes in regards to what you ate, what time you went to bed or what you did for exercise.
- If you’re trying to make a change in diet or lifestyle, you can use the data for help in implementing those changes and with holding yourself accountable.
- You can use your health journal to identify different foods and lifestyle habits that may be working against you. You can then experiment with alternatives to see if something needs to be changed, increased, reduced or cut out entirely from your life.
- A health journal is handy to take with you to medical appointments or while travelling to locations where doctors may not have access to your medical records.
A health journal provides you with an opportunity to improve your health by learning from it. Sometimes our future can be best shaped by looking at our past.