You can recite your cellphone, Social Security and bank PIN numbers without hesitation. But can you reel off the numbers that add up to good health? Knowing these numbers – and how your levels compare to healthy readings – is a powerful way to take charge of your health.
“Disease prevention revolves around numbers you can often control. If your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other key numbers are higher than normal, you usually can take steps to lower them before your health is compromised,” says Dr. Adriana Gonzalez, a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic.
On the other hand, if your numbers are within a healthy range, you know you’re on track with your current lifestyle habits.
Either way, it pays to take note of the numbers your doctor records in your medical record. Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar that are too high have few, if any, symptoms at first. This means the only for-sure way to know your levels is to have them measured in a doctor’s office through screening tests.
The following numbers are ones you should know.
Your blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When it’s too high (hypertension), your heart must work harder. Over time, high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge or weaken. This can lead to heart failure. High blood pressure can also narrow your arteries, which disrupts proper blood flow to your heart or brain and may trigger a heart attack or stroke.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your body’s cells. It helps your body make important vitamins and hormones. But too much cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This sticky substance causes your arteries to harden and narrow, which limits blood flow to your heart.
Cholesterol isn’t all bad. It’s a type of fat that’s actually a nutrient. But as you’ve probably heard, there’s “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Keeping both in check is essential for good health.
Your body breaks down food into glucose, which cells absorb for energy. When this process goes off track, glucose builds up in the blood. Extra sugar in your bloodstream is a sign of diabetes, a disease that can harm every organ in your body, while also damaging nerves and blood vessels.
Body mass index (BMI)
Your BMI is a weight-height calculation that can help determine if you’re overweight or obese. “Excess body fat increases your risk for a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea,” Dr. Gonzalez says.
If you’re age 35 or older, Dr. Gonzalez recommends an annual medical checkup, including a screening for these important health numbers. Depending on your medical history, you may need more frequent testing.