Good Health by the Numbers
Phone numbers, street numbers, Social Security numbers--we're bombarded with numbers. It can be daunting to keep up, and doctors say too few of us track the numbers that add up to good health.
To care for yourself and your family, learn your numbers. Keep a record of your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body mass index and waist circumference. If your numbers aren't perfect, know the targets you and your doctors agree you should shoot for.
If your blood pressure were high, wouldn't you know it? "Unfortunately, more frequently there are no symptoms--that's the issue," says Christie Ballantyne, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. "We could prevent 80 percent of problems caused by high blood pressure if people would get checked and take the proper steps," Dr. Ballantyne says.
For the average healthy adult, these are the numbers to go by:
Optimal blood pressure: Less than 120/80
High blood pressure: 140/90
High blood pressure controlled with medication should be less than 140/90. If you have diabetes, it should be less than 130/80.
Many of us know our total cholesterol, but not our lipid profiles. That's a fancy name for the types of fats in the blood.
"What a lot of people believe is that if they're being treated with medication for high cholesterol, they're cured," says internist H. Timothy Dombrowski, D.O., an associate professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine. "They don't realize that if they stop their medication, their lipid issue will resurface."
For adults without chronic disease or major risk factors for heart disease, these are the recommended levels for total cholesterol and the various forms that cholesterol takes in the blood:
Optimal total cholesterol: less than 200
LDL ("bad") cholesterol:
Optimal HDL ("good") cholesterol:
Men: more than 45
Women: more than 50
Desirable: less than 150
Problem: 200 or more
Serious problem: 500
High blood sugar or diabetes can lead to other ailments. Among them are high blood pressure, kidney disease, visual problems, heart disease, and stroke. The following are the important numbers for blood sugar.
Blood sugar (after an eight-hour fast):
"If we catch this earlier, diet and exercise can prevent progression into diabetes," Dr. Dombrowski says. "The message here is to prevent progression when you're pre-diabetic. Don't blow it off."
If you have diabetes, you'll have A1C tests from time to time. These measure your average blood sugar levels over the past two or three months to see how treatment is working. The A1C goal, set by the American Diabetes Association, is 7 percent or less; 6 percent or less is even better.
How much should you weigh? The number on the scale matters, but more telling, experts say, are body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, measured an inch or two above the navel. Doctors use a BMI chart to learn your best weight range based on your height. You can check your BMI online at http://nhlbisupport.com/bmi.
Optimal waist circumference:
All of these numbers--from blood pressure to BMI--are affected by the two main problems in today's culture, Dr. Dombrowski says. We eat too much and exercise too little.