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Know Your Numbers

  • Four Health Numbers You Should Know

  • You can rattle off your cellphone and Social Security numbers without a second thought. But can you recite the numbers that add up to good health: your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI)? Knowing these numbers—and how your levels compare to healthy, normal readings—is a powerful way to take charge of your health.

    “Disease prevention is a numbers game that you can often control,” says Joline Heo, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation. “If your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other numbers are higher than normal, you can take steps to lower them—before your health becomes compromised.”

    On the flip side, if your numbers are within a healthy range, you know you’re on track with your current healthy lifestyle habits. Either way, it pays to take note of the numbers your doctor records in your medical record. Too-high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar have few, if any, symptoms at first. The only way to know your levels for sure is to measure them, in the doctor’s office and through screening tests. At home, keeping tabs on your weight— which affects your BMI—is also wise. If your doctor recommends that you monitor blood pressure or blood sugar on your own, be sure to follow up.

    Here are the four numbers everyone should know—and why.

  • Blood Pressure

  • Your healthy target: Less than 120/80 mm Hg

    Why it matters: Your blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. If it’s too high, your heart must work harder. Over time, high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge or weaken. This can lead to heart failure. High blood pressure can also narrow your arteries, which disrupts proper blood flow to your heart or brain, triggering a heart attack or stroke.

  • Blood Cholesterol

  • Your healthy target: Less than 200 mg/dL total

    Why it matters: Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your body’s cells. It helps your body make important vitamins and hormones. But too much cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This sticky substance causes your arteries to harden and narrow, which limits blood flow to your heart.

  • Fasting Blood Glucose

  • Your healthy target: Up to 100 mg/dL

    Why it matters: Your body breaks down food into glucose, which cells absorb for energy. When this process goes awry, glucose builds up in the blood. Extra sugar in your bloodstream is a sign of diabetes, a disease that can harm every organ in your body, while also damaging nerves and blood vessels.

  • Body Mass Index (BMI)

  • Your healthy target: 18.5 to 24.9

    Why it matters: Your BMI is a weight-height calculation that can help determine if you’re overweight or obese. “Excess body fat increases your risk for a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea,” Dr. Heo says. If you are age 35 or older, Dr. Heo recommends an annual medical checkup, including a screening for these vital health statistics. Depending on your medical history, you may need more frequent testing.

  • Numbers Too High? 5 Ways to Lower Them

  • Your doctor says one or more of your vital health numbers is too high. Now what?

    Whether you need to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or BMI, these five steps can get you back on track.

    1. Exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity—such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking or dancing—five days per week.
    2. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins,whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
    3. Quit smoking.
    4. Limit alcohol. If you drink alcohol, do so moderately. That means no more than one drink daily for women and no more than two drinks daily for men.
    5. Ask about medicine. “In addition to making lifestyle changes, taking certain medications can provide an extra boost to bring your numbers within the healthy range,” says Dr. Heo. Talk with your doctor to learn if medicine might help you.