6 Numbers Key to Keeping Your Heart Healthy
By Luai Tabaza, MD, FACC, Interventional Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology
What if there were a handful of numbers that can help you track your heart health? There are!
These numbers are like signs along the road letting you know what’s ahead. Knowing your levels, and where they should be, can help prevent problems later.
Here are six important screening tests and actions you can take to improve your heart health.
Blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of your blood as it pushes against your arteries, veins and capillaries. Blood pressure readings have two numbers: systolic (the top number), the force of blood pumping out of your heart, and diastolic (the bottom number), the heart resting between beats.
Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once per year to ensure it’s lower than 120/80 mmHg. If yours is higher, your health care provider may want to check it more often.
Blood sugar. Starting at age 45, have your blood sugar tested every three years. After an overnight fast, normal blood sugar levels should be 99 mg/dl or lower. Consistently high readings may mean you have type 2 diabetes, which puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol. Adults age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured every four to six years. Performed after an eight- or 12-hour fast, this test creates a lipoprotein profile that reveals your levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol; HDL, or “good,” cholesterol; and triglycerides, another type of blood fat.
A healthy adult should aim to keep total cholesterol levels lower than 200 mg/dl, with LDL cholesterol lower than 100 mg/dl. For HDL, a level of 60 mg/dl or higher helps protect your heart. Triglycerides should test below 150.
Body mass index (BMI). BMI, a numerical value of your weight with respect to your height, is often used to measure obesity. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2 is considered a healthy weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight, while 30 and higher is obese. A modest loss of 5 to 10% of your weight can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Sleep. Studies have found that adults should get about seven hours of sleep each night.
Exercise. Most people should get at least 150 minutes a week (or 30 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity physical activity. Be sure to include muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.
Knowing your numbers is key to understanding your physical well-being. Talk to your health care provider about steps you can take to improve your health.
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Updated February 16, 2021