Despite concerns that Americans face a decline in life expectancy, we still enjoy a relatively long lifespan. As of 2016, the life expectancy for men and women is 76 and 81 years, respectively. That’s a whole lot of years, and because of this we are more health conscious now than we’ve ever been before.
We want to preserve the best quality of life for as long as possible. Part of this desire means we need to understand our health numbers, so we can sidestep chronic conditions like prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. But, what are these health numbers? We’ll go through the 9 most common health numbers and explain why you should be keeping tabs on them.
1. Height, weight and body mass index (BMI) are the most common health numbers. All you need is a bathroom scale, and you can plug and chug it into a BMI calculator. BMI can give you an idea of what your risk for chronic illness is. A low or high BMI are signs that you may not be at optimal health. Keep in mind that BMI can overestimate body fat in athletes and bodybuilders and underestimate body fat in older individuals. Learn more in Body Composition 101.
2. Waist circumference measures how round you are in the middle, specifically starting at just above your belly button. Fat around your midsection is more harmful than fat stored elsewhere because it releases inflammatory substances and hormones that can negatively affect your other health numbers. Like BMI, having a high waist circumference puts you at risk for all the chronic conditions mentioned above.
3. Blood pressure measures the force of blood hitting your blood vessel walls as your heart contracts and relaxes. If this number is too high and stays that way for a really long time, you can imagine how this might wear on your blood vessels. Your doc usually keeps tabs on this number, but you can also keep track of it using a store-bought blood pressure monitor. Blood pressure changes often, so don’t be too worried about one high reading. If you consistently see high readings over a long period, you should consult your doctor. Learn more in Blood Pressure 101.
4. Fasting blood sugar measures how much sugar is in your blood after not eating for at least eight hours. While your blood sugar varies throughout the day, it should in theory be pretty low after you fast. If this number is high, it’s a sign your body may have trouble controlling its blood sugar levels, which may put you at higher risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
5. Hemoglobin A1c (Hba1c) may make your eyes glaze over (kidding!). HbA1C, or “glycated hemoglobin,” is an average of what your blood sugar has been over the last two to three months. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in your blood. Blood sugar can coat or “glycate” these proteins, hence the name. If your blood sugar is consistently high, a higher percentage of your hemoglobin will be coated. Having a high reading is a sign your body has trouble controlling its blood sugar, putting you at a higher risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Learn more about hemoglobin A1c.
6. LDL Cholesterol is also known as the “bad” cholesterol. It gets a bad reputation because too much LDL can lead to the formation of plaque, a waxy deposit that can clog blood vessels. Because of this, high LDL cholesterol puts you at higher risk for heart disease. Learn more about LDL cholesterol.
7. HDL Cholesterol is nicknamed the “good” cholesterol. Its job is to pick up excess LDL and carry it back to the liver where it can be processed and removed. Because of this, a low HDL level is linked to higher risk for heart disease. Learn more about HDL cholesterol.
8. Total Cholesterol is the sum of LDL and HDL cholesterol. A high number is a sign of increased risk for heart disease, but it’s not as useful as seeing it broken down into LDL and HDL cholesterol.
9. Triglycerides is a measure of how much fat is in your blood. It may sound a little gross, but your blood is the highway where most nutrients are transported. It’s normal to have some triglycerides in the blood, but a high number could increase your risk for heart disease. That’s because triglycerides work hand-in-hand with cholesterol to worsen plaque formation. Learn more about triglycerides.
That’s pretty much the rundown on the 9 most common health numbers. Pay attention to them because they help you gauge your body’s physical health. While having a chronic condition or being at risk for one can dampen your quality of life, you can always fight back. Keep your health in check by eating well. We’re here to help you!