Most Americans know their phone numbers, social security numbers and even their driver’s license number by heart. But do they know the numbers that really count?
Knowing cholesterol, blood pressure and other key numbers are the best ways to determine one’s risk for developing heart disease. Why worry? Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. More than one million Americans have heart attacks each year and about half a million people die from heart disease. It is important to know that symptoms are often silent and knowing your numbers will keep you on top of your own heart health.
Below are important numbers to know to increase heart health awareness:
Total Cholesterol: A fat-like substance our bodies need to produce hormones and build cells. Our bodies make all the cholesterol we need, so limiting our intake of dietary cholesterol as much as possible, can be beneficial.
LDL Cholesterol: The main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. Often called the “bad” cholesterol.
Goal: <130mg for most individuals
HDL Cholesterol: helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries by carrying excess cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where it is removed from the body. Often called the “good” cholesterol that protects against heart disease.
Goal: Women – 50mg/dl or higher. Men – 40mg or higher.
Triglycerides: The most common form of fat found in the body. Excess calories from a meal are transported to fat cells for storage. High levels of triglycerides in the blood have been linked to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Blood Pressure: The pressure that blood exerts on the walls of major arteries. The first or top number (systolic) is the pressure while the heart is beating and the second or bottom number (diastolic) is when the heart is resting between beats.
Waist Circumference: A measure to determine if you carry excess fat in your middle. Studies show that when fat is stored around your abdomen you are more likely to develop hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
Goal: Women – 35” or less. Men – 40” or less.
BMI – Body Mass Index: A measure of body weight relative to height that is used to gauge percent body fat. To determine BMI, multiply current weight in pounds by 703. Divide that number by height in inches, then take that answer and divide by height in inches again.
Fasting Glucose: A measure of blood glucose after not eating for at least 8 hours. Diabetes is diagnosed when fasting glucose levels are 126mg/dl or higher on two different days.
Follow these tips to help improve heart health:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Limit the amount of saturated, trans fat and cholesterol eaten.
- Choose more whole grain and high fiber foods.
- Select lean meats, fish, and poultry.
- Cut back on the salt shaker and prepared foods.
- Eliminate the use of tobacco products.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Be physically active for 30 minutes on most days.
Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to knowing your numbers. Start by tracking these key numbers and work on improving them over the next few months. Lowering levels that are too high lessens our risk for developing heart disease and will reduce chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Good heart health starts with developing a variety of healthy home cooked dishes as well as making smart decisions when eating out or ordering take-out. Begin by taking a favorite dish and modifying the standard recipe into a low fat/low cholesterol version. A modified recipe helps to reduce fat and cholesterol intake but will not necessarily eliminate it. Remember to check labels for fat and cholesterol content.
Kristina Adams, MS, RD, LDN
Director, SBL Weight Management Program