Q: I've read that I should "know my numbers" as a way of taking care of my heart. What does that mean?
A: Knowing your numbers – your blood pressure, cholesterol and waist measurement – is believed to provide good motivation for making heart-healthy choices throughout life. If those numbers fall within the normal range, congratulations for doing a good job on controlling or eliminating most of the risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Those factors include smoking; having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or elevated blood sugar (diabetes); being overweight and not exercising regularly.
In the U.S. today, many adults have either high blood pressure or high cholesterol and more than one-third of all Americans are considered overweight or obese. These serious risk factors can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes, but it requires a commitment from each individual to make personal health a priority.
Understanding the meaning of your blood pressure, cholesterol and waist measurement numbers is a good starting point. In addition, talk with your doctor about how your age, ethnicity and family history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes may indicate the need for more frequent testing or aggressive treatment of high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure.
Healthy adults who do not have diabetes or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease should try to maintain a blood pressure of 120/80 or lower. A healthy waist measurement for women is 35 inches or less and, for men 40 inches or less.
A cholesterol blood test provides information about your HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and trigylcerides. Those results are used to calculate your total cholesterol. In healthy adults who do not have cardiovascular risk factors, the total cholesterol should be no more than 200 mg/dL.
The Framingham Risk Score is a useful tool for calculating your 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease. It can be found online at www.FraminghamHeartStudy.org.