What are the important heart health numbers you should keep track of?

6/30/2012 3:55:00 PM

After your doctor takes your blood sample you receive a report that is covered with different numbers. These numbers don't tell you much, but they are quite insightful for your doctor. She bases her decision upon them, prescribes you proper diet and of course tracks your improvement. 

But what can you do by yourself to track your improvement or possible health damage? Track following health numbers and monitor your heart health.

And remember - healthy numbers mean a healthy heart. If you follow a healthy lifestyle -- eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and avoid smoking -- you can even turn bad numbers around. 

1. Do you measure your blood pressure?

Put simply, blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries - the tubes that carry your blood from your heart to your brain and the rest of your body. You need a certain amount of pressure to get the blood round your body.

The pressure of the blood flowing through your arteries changes when your heart is pumping and when it is at rest. The pressure in your arteries will be at its highest when your heart is pumping and lowest as it relaxes before it pumps again.

Number you should be aware of: 140/85

Every blood pressure reading consists of two numbers or levels. They are shown as one number on top of the other and measured in mmHg, which means millimetres of mercury.  If your reading is 120/80mmHg, you might hear your doctor or nurse saying your blood pressure is "120 over 80".

The first (or top) number represents the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats and pumps blood through your arteries - your systolic blood pressure. An example might be 130mmHg.

The second (or bottom) number represents the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats - your diastolic blood pressure. An example might be 75mmHg.

You should have your blood pressure measured so that you know what your target is. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, your blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg.1

2. Cholesterol is a predictor of a heart attack 

Cholesterol isn't all bad -- it's a type of fat that's actually a nutrient. But as you've probably heard, there's "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol. When we measure cholesterol and blood fats, 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.

What are normal cholesterol levels?

The amount of cholesterol in human blood can vary from 3.6 mmol/liter to 7.8 mmol/liter:

  • 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.2

3. Waist size is the number to monitor!

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, recent studies show. 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. 2

The researchers also found found that a four-inch increase in waist size was associated with about a 15 percent increase in risk for heart disease, both in people of normal weight with a B.M.I. of 25 and in the obese with a B.M.I. above 30.3


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