Heart health 101: Know your numbers

February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to check on your ticker. When it comes to a heart health, a few numbers can tell you a whole lot. Get to know your numbers for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight. If these are too high, you are more likely to have heart disease and other health problems. Getting your numbers checked regularly and knowing what they mean is a great first step toward better health.

Here are the basics:

Blood sugar – aim for less than 100

  • What it is: Your blood sugar measures exactly that  how much sugar is in your blood. Elevated blood sugar can lead to diabetes, and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • What should your number be? Before eating, your blood sugar should be less than 100, and two hours after eating it should be less than 140.
  • Take action: Avoid foods high in carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta and desserts), which can elevate your blood sugar, and work to incorporate more raw, cooked or roasted veggies into your daily diet.

Blood pressure – aim for 120/80 or lower

  • What it is: Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the arteries when your beats (top number) and rests (bottom number). High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage your heart, arteries and kidneys if left untreated.
  • What should your number be?
    • 120/80 is considered normal.
    • 140/90 or higher is considered high.
  • Take action: Incorporate regular exercise, which can help maintain a healthy blood pressure, into your daily routine. Limiting sodium intake to about 1 teaspoon of salt (2,300 milligrams) each day and reducing your alcohol intake can also help.

Blood cholesterol – aim for less than 200

  • What it is: Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. If you have too much in your arteries, it can make it hard for your blood to circulate. Sustained high cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.
  • What should your number be?
    • A total cholesterol reading of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is good.
    • 200-239 mg/dL is borderline high, indicating some risk for heart disease.
    • A reading of 240 mg/dL or above is considered high.
  • Take action: Cholesterol is impacted in part by your diet, so reducing your intake of unhealthy foods like fried dishes and rich desserts can help improve your number.

Body mass index – aim for 18.6-24.9

  • What it is: Your ideal body weight takes into account your gender, age, height and frame. Your body mass index, or BMI, uses your height as well as your weight to give you a better idea of how much of your body is composed of fat.
  • What should your number be? The higher your BMI, the greater your risk of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
    • A healthy BMI is between 18.6 and 24.9.
    • A BMI between 25-29.9 is considered overweight.
    • Anything above 30 is considered obese.
  • Take action: Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and increase your weekly activity and exercise. Burning 500 extra calories a day can help you lose up to one pound a week.

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