From your body mass index to your blood sugar levels, there are dozens of markers that help assess your health. Cardiologist Dr. Ivan Anderson explains which numbers to track.
There are many ways to measure good health, and the numbers can be dizzying to remember. We asked Ivan Anderson, MD, a cardiologist at the Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health, to explain what we need to know.
What numbers should adults monitor?
There are four numbers you should monitor: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index. The first number, your blood pressure, measures the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. This number gives you a good idea of your heart health, and keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
The second number is your cholesterol level. Cholesterol is a substance in your blood needed by your body to build healthy cells, but having too much of it is bad. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke.
The third number is your blood sugar level. Our bodies use sugar for fuel, but again, having too much sugar in the blood is bad. High blood sugar can lead to diabetes.
The fourth number, your body mass index, or BMI, estimates the amount of fat in your body and it can help identify if you’re overweight or obese. And being overweight or obese can lead to higher levels in the other three numbers: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
So what are the “healthy” ranges for these numbers that people should aim for?
For blood pressure, anything below 120 over 80 is good.
Cholesterol is a little more complicated because there are “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels. The bad cholesterol, or LDL, should be less than 100 mg/dL to be considered optimal. The good cholesterol level, or HDL, should at least 40 mg/dL. And you ideally want your total cholesterol level to be under 200 mg/dL.
A healthy range for blood sugar levels for most people without diabetes is around 60-90 mg/dL. The normal number can be a little bit different for everyone.
Healthy BMI levels are a little different for everyone as well. But in general, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 for adults.
How can people improve their numbers?
A healthy diet and exercise are the major ways you can improve these numbers.
To help improve your blood pressure and your BMI, exercise is key. Just 30 minutes of cardio a day — walking, swimming, biking or any other kind of movement — strengthens your heart’s muscles, which improves blood flow and therefore your blood pressure. And the 30 minutes doesn’t have to be all at once either. If you can’t find a solid 30 minutes, break it up into smaller sessions in the day, like a 15-minute walk during lunch and another 15 minutes after work.
To help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, healthy eating should be your focus. Try to eat foods that are low in saturated fat and try to avoid trans-fats wherever you can. Eat things like whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, lean meats like chicken (remove the skin) and also nuts and seeds.
And sugar is sneaky, it’s hiding in a lot of food like non-fat fruit yogurt, store-bought pasta sauce and even salad dressing. Try to keep your sugar intake to less than 37.5 grams per day for men and less than 25 grams for women.
How can people get their numbers measured and how often should they get them measured?
It’s a good idea to get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. You can do that during a primary care checkup or at a pharmacy that offers a free automatic blood pressure machine.
Getting your cholesterol tested requires a blood sample, which can make some people uneasy, but for cholesterol, you really only have to get tested every four to six years. Just ask your primary care doctor to get tested.
Your blood sugar requires a blood test as well, and you might need to fast beforehand. Ask your doctor for a blood sugar test and they can tell you what you need to do and how often they recommend for you to get tested.
For your BMI, there are many free calculators online that ask you to enter your height, weight and age to give you an estimate of your BMI.
Want to learn your numbers? Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider online at Renown.org.