Blood tests are a great objective fitness tool.
Weight changes as fat and muscle ratios change. Pictures and the mirror change subjectively.
But a blood test… you can compare this year’s blood test to last year’s blood test and see exactly how you compare.
The tests below are a good starting point for you. Your first test will show you how much room for improvement you have. Subsequent tests will show you exactly what improvements you’ve made.
All of these are important indicators of your health and longevity, and you can use them for an accurate self-assessment.
So here are 5 blood tests you should have done regularly:
Blood Test #1: Fasting Insulin
This test involves an overnight fast. It might be the most important test you can have done.
Your fasting insulin is a direct indicator of your metabolic health. In fact, insulin levels are so key to your health that they can predict the outcome of many other tests.
High fasting insulin levels are associated with other negative health signals, like high triglycerides, hypertension, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, high inflammation, and leptin resistance.
Plus, insulin tells you a lot about your fat storage. High fasting insulin levels means you’re more likely to store fat and have dangerous visceral fat deposits.
Doctors won’t usually test your fasting insulin levels unless they’re looking for a specific problem, so you will probably need to ask or go to a testing lab and order it done for yourself.
Blood Test #2: Testosterone
Testosterone levels are declining rapidly in both men and women. (In fact, adults now have about a quarter of the testosterone of their grandparents)
Low testosterone is associated with low muscle, increased body fat, moodiness, depression, hypertension, low strength, low energy, and a slower metabolism.
Age-related decline in testosterone is largely preventable with the proper diet, workout, and lifestyle factors in place.
Chronic cardio and stress both will lower your testosterone.
Blood Test #3: Cholesterol
Usually you get a report of your total cholesterol. That number is basically useless for assessing your health. What you need to know are your “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels.
HDL (High density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol. Higher HDL levels are associated with increased longevity and improved health. HDL carries fats to your liver where you can break them down and use them for energy.
LDL (Low density lipoprotein) is the bad cholesterol. LDL oxidizes (turns rancid) very easily, blocks your blood vessels, and contributes to lesions inside your body.
If you have a high total cholesterol but most of that is HDL, you’re sitting pretty. If you have elevated LDL, you’re about to run into a lot of health problems.
Blood Test #4: C-Reactive Protein
C-reactive proteins are a sign of inflammation in your body. Unfortunately, most doctors won’t test your C-reactive protein levels unless they think you’re at risk for a heart attack.
C-reactive protein (CRP) testing is more accurate at predicting a heart attack than either triglyceride or cholesterol levels. Elevated CRP levels means you’re at risk for developing diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Having a high percentage of CRP is directly linked to higher levels of body fat. The increased inflammation from the fat stores taxes your body’s immune system and damages healthy tissues (like your brain, liver, and kidneys).
Blood Test #5: Triglycerides
High triglycerides are almost always signals of a metabolic disorder. This test tells you the levels of fats that are circulating around in your bloodstream.
When you’re insulin resistant, the fats just keep circulating and building up, causing all sorts of problems – from becoming rancid to blocking bloodflow.
You should measure both your triglyceride level and your ratio of triglycerides to HDL.
Getting Blood Tests
Until recently most of these tests had to be ordered by a physician, but now you can start taking a more proactive role in protecting your health.
First, ask your doctor and see if you can get these tests done there and covered by your insurance. If that’s not available, there are many local testing facilities that will take blood samples and send them into a lab where the tests you order are carried out. (I use Direct Laboratory Services Inc.)
Even if the tests are covered by your insurance you should still invest in them, they provide an invaluable view into your current health and show you your risks for future disease.
Getting tested twice a year is a good baseline, but you can get tested over even shorter periods if you’re experimenting with changing certain levels.
For instance, a client of mine had a blood test done and discovered she had low vitamin D. She went on a vitamin D raising plan and was tested again at 4, 8, and 12 weeks. At 12 weeks her levels were in a healthier range and she could take on a more moderate program for maintenance.
But here’s the kicker: at 4 weeks there was no change, so it would have been easy to quit. Instead we made a few tweaks and at 8 weeks her levels were rising. After 12 weeks she was where she needed to be. If we had waited 6 months or a year to get a follow-up test done, who knows what kind of results we’d have seen – good or bad?
So use testing as an assessment tool. If you have no specific issues, every six months is a perfect place to start.