How much do you weigh? Even if you haven’t weighed yourself lately, chances are you have an idea. Try this one: what’s your glucose level? If you’re not diabetic, you probably don’t know. What about your cholesterol? That’s a little easier. Or, here’s a softball: what’s your blood pressure?
Most of you have a vague understanding of the importance of these numbers, but fixate on the one which pops up when you step on the scale. Yet, this may be the least important when it comes to judging your overall health.
“We like to mix it (weight) in with a whole spectrum,” says cardiologist and American Heart Association spokesperson, Vincent J. Bufalino. “It’s better than just looking at your weight.”
Don’t wait (ha ha) to read on, but know I am not a doctor, although I did play one on tv once. The following information is taken from the AHA and is intended to remind you there is more to good health than the amount of weight you lose.
Your waist circumference is the distance around your waist measured at the point between the top of your hipbone and your bottom rib. This point is usually just below your navel. This number is important because excess abdominal fat indicates a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A number above 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men signals an elevated risk for disease.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the vessels. The top number (systolic) measures pressure as your heart beats. The diastolic, or bottom, number measures pressure as your heart relaxes. A reading above 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) shows a greater risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by your body and found in animal food products. High levels leave deposits on your blood vessel walls and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. A number below 200 milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL is considered ideal. In order to find your cholesterol, you need a lipid profile. This blood test will give you your cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglyceride readings.
Low-density lipoprotein or LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. LDL is a unit of proteins and fats that carries cholesterol in the body. High levels, indicated by a number over 160 mg/dL, cause a buildup in the blood vessels. An important note with LDL is that healthy levels depend upon your heart disease risk. If you are at a low risk for heart disease, 160 mg/dL is acceptable. People at an intermediate risk for heart disease are considered ok with a reading of 130 mg/dL or less. If you are at high risk for heart disease, most physicians would desire a number below 100 mg/dL.
High-density lipoprotein or HDL can be thought of as “happy” cholesterol, because the higher the number, the better. Just like LDL, HDL is a unit of proteins and fats that carries cholesterol. However, HDL carries cholesterol to the liver, so it can be removed from the body. A number equal to or greater than 50 mg/dL will make your doctor very happy.
Your doc may not be so happy if you have high levels of Triglycerides. Too much of this fat (over 150 mg/dL) puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Low levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood are also an indicator of good health. A fasting glucose level of less than 100 mg/dL is considered normal. High levels indicate diabetes.
Now you know the importance of all the numbers, which concern your health. Of course, the same methods which often lead to weight loss, will also improve these numbers. Exercise on a regular basis, consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and add non-animal sources of protein to your diet. Reduce your intake of sugar and choose whole, unrefined carbohydrate sources. Use low-fat dairy products. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one a day. If you do this, all of your numbers can improve.