Knowing Your Health Numbers Can Save Your Life
Know your numbers? Learn why they're important and how they may help predict future problems.

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Knowing Your Health Numbers Can Save Your Life

Do you know your numbers? Not your phone password, your lotto picks or your ATM code. We're talking about the numbers that can tell a lot about your overall health.

We're talking cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). These numbers can tell you if you are at a high risk for some serious diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. If you know your numbers, you can take steps to lower your risk.

What do these numbers mean and where should they be?
Each one of these numbers is very important:

Blood pressure: less than 120/80 mmHg
Blood pressure measures the force of blood that travels through your arteries. If it's too high, it's a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The top number (120) measures the systolic pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number (80) measures the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure between heartbeats.

Total cholesterol: below 200 mg/dL
There are two main kinds of cholesterol:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as your good cholesterol. HDL should be 40 mg/dL or above for men and 50 mg/dL or higher for women. An HDL of 60 or greater puts you at a LOWER risk of having heart disease. An HDL of less than 40 increases your risk for heart disease.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as your bad cholesterol. The lower this number is, the better. Ideally, your LDL level is below 100 mg/dL. Too much bad cholesterol raises your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Your total cholesterol is a combination of your HDL, LDL and other fats in your blood. Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. Your triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dL.

Fasting blood sugar/glucose: less than 100 mg/dL
Fasting blood sugar should be less than 100 mg/dL. Higher blood sugar levels may indicate diabetes.

Body mass index (BMI): less than 25
BMI is a height-to-weight ratio and is used as an estimate for body fat. Your BMI tells you if you are at a healthy weight for your height. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you are overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher means you are obese. Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.

How can I improve these numbers?
If your numbers aren't on target, you can make changes to your lifestyle to lower them and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

  • Don't smoke. If you do, quit.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Even a few pounds can improve your health risks.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine or increasing your activity level.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar and sodium.
  • Reduce stress.

Sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your numbers. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help lower your blood pressure or cholesterol. Take the first step. Learn your numbers.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Contributing Writer
Created on 10/21/2004
Updated on 11/12/2012
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Obesity Education Initiative. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults.
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Diagnosis of diabetes.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. How is high blood cholesterol diagnosed?
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure in adults.
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