Change Your Choices

Change Your Life…Tips for a healthier you

Do You Know Your Numbers?

on September 6, 2011


The other day I posted about my obsession with numbers- namely weight and clothing size.  While those numbers are not indicitive of health, there are some numbers that can save your life. 

What do those numbers mean?

1- Blood Pressure. You hear about blood pressure all the time, they even took my blood pressure at the dentist.  But, do we really know what those numbers mean and how they affect our health? 

Blood pressure consists of two numbers. Your systolic pressure measures the pressure of blood against artery walls when the heart pumps blood out during a heartbeat, while the diastolic pressure measures the same pressure between heartbeats, when the heart fills with blood. Both of these numbers are important.

  • Normal blood pressure is below 120/80.
  • Pre-hypertension is 120 to 139 (systolic) and/or 80 to 89 (diastolic).
  • Hypertension – also known as high blood pressure — is 140 or higher (systolic) and 90 or higher (diastolic).

One in three adults in the U.S. — about 74 million people — has high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of deaths from high blood pressure rose by more than 48%.

2- Cholesterol.

Cholesterol isn’t all bad — it’s a type of fat that’s actually a nutrient. But as I’ve mentioned before, there’s “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. When cholesterol and blood fats are measured, we’re really talking about three different numbers: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. They combine to give you a “lipid profile” score, but the three individual scores are most important.

Here are the numbers to strive for:

  • Total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or lower.
  • HDL (“good” cholesterol) of 50 mg/dL or higher, if you’re a woman, or 40 mg/dL or higher, if you’re a man.
  • Optimal LDL is 100 or lower.  If you have other major risk factors, like pre-existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes, your doctor may want your LDL closer to 70.
  • Triglycerides of less than 150 mg/dL.

LDL is the number most doctors and heart health programs focus on in particular and every single point of LDL decrease makes a difference. Don’t get discouraged if your number is still high as long as it is decreasing. 

Perhaps the most important number to know and it's easy to measure.

3- Waist Size. If you can only remember one number, your waist size is the one to know. Why? Because better than your weight or your BMI, your waist size predicts your heart disease risk. If your waist size is equal to or more than 35 inches in women and equal to or more than 40 inches in men, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic problems, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol.

It’s easy to measure yourself. Just get a non-elastic tape and measure around your belly button.

Why is a big waist so dangerous? Previous research indicates that those who carry more fat around their abdomen also have higher amounts of fat around vital organs like the kidneys, liver, and pancreas; this so-called visceral fat is more “metabolically active” than fat that lies just below the skin and is thought to promote chronic inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

While eating fewer calories or burning off more through exercise can help reduce abdominal fat, several recent studies also suggest that reducing stress and getting enough sleep—seven to eight hours a night for most people—can lower levels of stress hormones; that’s a good thing since some of these hormones trigger the body to produce visceral fat.

Know these numbers- it just might save your life. 


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