When it comes to our health, there are a lot of health numbers to keep track of—150 pounds, 110/70mmHg, 210mg/dL. What do they all mean and why are they important? We’ll break down four common numbers: cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and body mass index. Each number gives your healthcare provider a starting point to understand your risk for various health conditions. No one number is the end-all, be-all indicator of your health, but collectively, they allow your healthcare provider to piece together the state of your health.
Cholesterol is needed for a variety of essential functions in your body. Your body produces cholesterol and we consume it in our diets from animal products (meat, cheese, butter, etc.). Cholesterol is linked to heart health.
• Have your cholesterol checked beginning at 20 years old. Ideal total cholesterol levels are <200mg/dL.
• There are two different types of cholesterol (“good” and “bad”). The higher your “good cholesterol” or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) the better. The higher your “bad” cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) the greater risk to your heart. Your healthcare provider can help you understand ideal levels of each.
• Prevention starts now! Even in your 30s, it’s important to be making lifestyle choices to prevent cholesterol concerns. Eat smart, be active and meet with a dietitian to discuss your diet.
BLOOD SUGAR (BS):
This number helps you manage diabetes, and monitoring it closely can possibly prevent one from developing Type 2 Diabetes. Blood sugar, or glucose, is your body’s main source of energy. There are different ways to check your blood sugar: with a glucometer or through blood tests.
• Ideal fasting BS is ≤100mg/dL.
• A1C is a blood test that shows your BS values over the past 2-3 months. A normal value is <5.7%. A1C helps you and your healthcare provider see what’s been happening in your body and what changes may need to be made with your diet and/or medications.
• Consistently high blood sugar levels can also damage vital organs over time.
This number measures how much pressure your blood is exerting on your vessels and arteries.
• This number needs to be checked and monitored closely, as it’s a key diagnostic tool.
• Ideal blood pressure is <120/80mmHg.
• When uncontrolled, high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
BODY MASS INDEX (BMI):
A calculation for individuals over 20 years old that uses height and weight to categorize you as underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese (click here for an online BMI calculator)
• Your BMI indicates how healthy your weight is for your height.
• BMI of <18.5: Underweight
• BMI of 18.5-24.9: Healthy weight
• BMI of 25-29.9: Overweight
• BMI of >29.9: Obese
• This is not a diagnostic tool. A drawback of this number is that no adjustments are made for gender, age, lean/fat body mass.
• BMI should not be used to assess pregnant women.
Cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and BMI are all affected by your lifestyle choices. Aim to lead a healthy lifestyle by being physically active, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep and managing your stress. Now that you know more about each number, make an appointment with your healthcare provider today to seek advice and get yours checked!
— By Lindsey DeCaro, RDN, LDN