COLUMBUS, Ohio—Pass codes, phone numbers, social security numbers, clothing sizes, and addresses. We all have a lot of numbers in our heads, but heart experts at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say there are five more you need to know to help keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
“These are the numbers doctors use to assess someone’s risk for getting heart disease, both short term and throughout their lifetime,” says Dr. Martha Gulati, director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at Ohio State’s Ross Heart Hospital. “When you monitor these numbers, you are empowered to work with your doctor to improve your heart health.”
Gulati says the most important numbers to know are:
This is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. It’s measured as two numbers—the systolic pressure, as the heart beats, over the diastolic pressure, as the heart relaxes between beats. A normal blood pressure is under 120/80. Talk to your doctor if it is higher than that. Simple lifestyle changes can help you lower your blood pressure and potentially avoid medication.
Body Mass Index is the measurement of your weight for your body surface area and it’s considered a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.
A recent national survey commissioned by Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center found nearly 2 out of 3 Americans don’t know what’s considered to be a healthy BMI. Use an online BMI calculator to get your number. A BMI less than 18.5 is underweight. Below 25 is normal. A BMI of 25 through 29.9 is overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese.
“Knowing where you lie within that spectrum is really important because sometimes people will be very accepting of their weight thinking ‘Well, that number sounds reasonable.’ But is it reasonable for their height?” Gulati said.
Fat that is carried around the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Measure your waist at the belly button, not where your clothing waistband sits. Gulati says women should be at least less than 35 inches and men should be less than 40 inches at the waist.
While the body makes all of the cholesterol it needs, it is also readily found in food. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and atherosclerosis, or build-up of plaque in the arteries. Gulati says it’s important to know your total cholesterol number and your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, number. That’s the bad cholesterol that can cause problems. A healthy cholesterol number is below 200. A healthy LDL number is below 100.
This reading tells doctors how much glucose is in the blood. High levels of blood glucose cause diabetes, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. A healthy fasting blood sugar number is under 100 after not eating for eight hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, killing about 600,000 Americans each year.
“Information is power,” Gulati said. “If you can reduce any of those numbers, you can lower your overall lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.”