We’ve all done it: looked in the mirror sideways (preferably after not eating for a few hours), tightened our core, and assessed how we’re going to look when bathing suit season rolls around. But what actually defines a ‘good’ midsection? According to multiple resources, waist circumference and abdominal obesity are linked to risk of death in a decade from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

So what does this mean to you? Instead of checking your reflection in the mirror, pull out a measuring tape. According to the American Heart Association, women should have a waist smaller than 35 inches. For men, maintaining a waistline less than 40 inches in circumference lowers the risk of disease. The International Diabetes Federation maintains more stringent standards, with a waistline under 31.5 inches for women, and under 35.5 inches for men.

Checking your measurements at home is an easy way to determine if you need to make any changes in your diet or exercise routine. If your waistline is within the suggested measurement guidelines, congratulations and keep up the good work! If your waist exceeds suggested measures, know that there are many resources available to you to help reduce your risk of disease.

A gym setting can be intimidating to some but if you are willing to try it, ask a friend who has a gym membership if you can tag along to develop a level of comfort with the available equipment. If your budget is limited the internet has a plethora of videos you can follow along with free of charge. If you have been avoiding starting an exercise regimen due to old injuries, don’t hesitate to contact your physical therapist. He or she can help determine which exercises may be best for your injury versus which could worsen it.

Whatever route you choose for your personal health gains, don’t worry about what the mirror is telling you. Your measuring tape is a better assessment of your long term health.