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Knowing your health numbers: why it’s so important.
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What do healthcare providers mean when they say you should know your numbers? And why is it important?
What your healthcare provider means is that you should know your blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride numbers, as well as your body mass index. Knowing these numbers is important because keeping your numbers within a healthy range can greatly reduce your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes or other chronic diseases.
Here’s a quick rundown of those important numbers.
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.
Your healthy target: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
The top or first number is the systolic number; it measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. A normal systolic number is less than 120. The bottom or second number is the diastolic number; it measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. It should be less than 80.
Your body breaks down food into glucose (a type of sugar), which cells absorb for energy. When this process isn’t working right, 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 and also damage nerves and blood vessels.
Your healthy target: A normal fasting (no food for eight hours) blood sugar level is between 70 and 99 mg/dL. A normal blood sugar level two hours after eating is less than 140 mg/dL.
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.
Your healthy target: Total cholesterol—Less than 200 mg/dL total.
LDL—low density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL.
HDL—high density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol, men greater than 40 mg/dL and women greater than 50 mg/dL.
Triglycerides, which are produced in the liver, are another type of fat found in the blood and in food. Causes of raised triglycerides are overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol intake, and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of calories or higher). A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher also is one of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Your healthy target: Less than 150 mg/dL
BODY MASS INDEX (BMI)
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.
Your healthy target: 18.5 to 24.9
If you are over 65 your healthy target is between 25 and 27, because a slightly higher BMI may help protect you from osteoporosis.