April 26, 2016

Know Your Numbers

Be Healthy

Some numbers, like your birthday, social security number and home address, are ingrained in memory. But what about your health numbers?

Do you know your blood pressure?

What about your fasting blood sugar levels?

Could you explain the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol, and why you want one higher than the other?

If you had trouble answering any of the above questions, make it a point to ask your doctor to check the following four critical numbers during your next appointment.

“Keeping a personal record of your health numbers and observing how they change over time could help determine the number of years in your life – and the amount of life in your years,” says Dr. Tracey Richardson, a family medicine physician at Kauai Medical Clinic.

Here, Richardson reveals the top four numbers you should know and why.

 

Blood Pressure
Less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury

Blood pressure is a measure of heart and artery health. The top number (systolic pressure) represents the force of blood pumped out of your heart to the rest of your body, while the bottom number (diastolic pressure) refers to the pressure in your arteries as blood returns to your heart.

“The higher the numbers, the harder your heart is working to push blood out to the rest of your body,” Richardson explains.

Why you should know:

Often referred to as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure often is symptomless yet, when left unchecked, can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and heart failure.

“It is estimated that one in three American adults suffers from high blood pressure,” Richardson says. “If you are one of them, speak with your doctor on ways to lower your numbers.”

 

Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol should be more than 40 mg/dL

Cholesterol is a waxy substance composed of several different types of fat in your blood. Too much of the “bad” stuff (LDL) can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. However, “good” cholesterol (HDL) prevents the buildup of fat in your arteries.

Why you should know:

“It’s important to include heart-healthy food choices and soluble fibers such as beans and oatmeal in your diet. All of these can help lower LDL numbers and raise HDL scores,” Richardson says.

Exercise also helps boost your HDL levels while lowering you LDL. Similarly, not getting enough exercise puts you at risk for high cholesterol.

And if you smoke, stop. Smoke from cigarettes damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them vulnerable to fatty deposits. Smoking also may lower your HDL levels.

 

Fasting Blood Sugar and Glycated Hemoglobin (A1C)
Fasting blood sugar should be between 80 to 100 mg/dL
A1C should be below 5.6 percent for non-diabetics

Both of these measurements illustrate how much blood sugar, aka glucose, is in your body at certain times.

A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL is normal. Measurements of 100 to 125 mg/dL are considered pre-diabetic, while values greater than 125 mg/dL are indicative of diabetes.

“The A1C blood test is a summary of your blood sugar over the past two to three months,” Richardson says. “If you have diabetes, this number is a must-know because it represents how well your disease is controlled and your relative risk of complications.”

Why you should know:

Your body needs some glucose, as it uses the sugar as a source of energy to power the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. Glucose also is your brain’s primary source of fuel.

But, if you have diabetes – whether it’s type 1, type 2 or gestational – it means you have too much glucose in your blood, which can lead to serious health problems.

Keeping tabs on your numbers is crucial, as diabetes symptoms vary, and some people may not experience any signs of the disease initially. In fact, it is estimated that some 7 million Americans have pre-diabetes and don’t even know it.

If your fasting blood sugar levels start rising, it’s time to take action. Pre-diabetes can be stalled and reversed before developing into full-fledged type 2 diabetes.

If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds may get your blood sugar levels back into the normal range. Even a 5 percent weight drop can bring dramatic results.

Count your carb intake, and pair grains with lean proteins and healthy fats. You don’t want to eliminate any foods groups; rather, it’s about achieving a balanced diet.

 

Waist-to-Hip Ratio
0.80 or below for females
0.95 or below for males

This ratio is exactly what it sounds like: A comparative measurement of your waist circumference to your hip circumference. Based on a person’s fat distribution, the ratio often is used to describe someone as having either an “apple” or “pear” shape.

“Waist circumference is a simple tool that reflects the amount of total body fat and intra-abdominal body fat a person has,” Richardson says. “Similar to body mass index (BMI), which is a calculation based on height to weight, it is used to predict heart disease risk.”

Why you should know:

Waistlines measuring larger than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men are considered indicative of abdominal obesity, a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

In fact, many experts believe that carrying extra weight in your middle – what is commonly referred to as an “apple” body shape – increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.

While genetics play a major role in determining your body’s shape, lugging around more weight than your body can handle – regardless of where it’s stored – isn’t healthy for your bones, joints and internal organs.

Jump-start the weight-loss process by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins; avoiding processed foods; focusing on proper portion sizes; and exercising regularly.