Sometimes health care seems impossibly complicated. The truth is that much of the functioning of the human body is a mystery even to people who have studied it for a lifetime. Still, we have come a long way in our understanding of human biology. Specifically, we know more than ever about what causes disease and how to prevent certain conditions from getting the best of us. We are better than ever at monitoring health, preventing disease, and treating disease when we catch it early in its progression.
You can keep tabs on your own health by monitoring just 5 numbers. By tracking these 5 numbers, you can gain more insight into your wellbeing than you ever thought possible. Most importantly, catching changes in these numbers as soon as they happen can help you prevent a number of serious conditions and reduce their impact on your health. Here are the 5 health numbers everyone should know.
Health practitioners have been measuring blood pressure for more than a century now. Your blood pressure is reported as two numbers and is written as a fraction. The top number represents the highest amount of pressure reached inside the blood vessels and the bottom number represents the lowest pressure reached.
Optimal blood pressure is defined as 120/80 mmHg for most people. If either number in the fraction gets too high, you might be diagnosed with hypertension (another term for high blood pressure). The higher this number goes, the greater your risk becomes for disease like:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Heart attack
- Kidney damage
- Lung damage
- Memory loss (dementia)
- Vision loss
High blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. You could have high blood pressure for years and not know it until you have a heart attack or suffer some other consequence. The older you get, the more likely you are to get hypertension. There is no need to worry though because you can prevent high blood pressure in many cases and there are dozens of drugs available to treat it. As long as you know you have high blood pressure, you can manage it and stay well (https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Why-Blood-Pressure-Matters_UCM_002051_Article.jsp#.V3MFV0Iy08o).
Your blood sugar (sometimes called glucose) level determines whether you have diabetes or not. Diabetes can cause all of the same problems as high blood pressure along with dozens of others. For some people, diabetes is unavoidable, but for most people the disease can be prevented or reversed if caught early enough. By monitoring your blood sugar, you can take action if it starts to climb and prevent diabetes from ever happening. Losing weight, getting more exercise, careful dieting, and certain medications can help you to prevent or control diabetes. Your health providers should check you blood sugar on a regular basis, particularly if you carry excess weight.
Cholesterol is reported as three numbers: total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. You really want to focus on the last two numbers, which are referred to as “bad” and “good” cholesterol respectively. A high level of good (HDL) cholesterol can protect your heart from damage and ward off diseases. Some people have a naturally high level and others have to work hard to get their HDL level up. You can boost your HDL level by exercising, quitting smoking, and by eating certain foods. There are also certain herbs and medications that can elevate your HDL level.
Your LDL cholesterol level needs to be low (below 3.5 mmol/L or 100 mg/dL). If LDL gets too high, your risks for heart disease, dementia, stroke, kidney disease, liver disease, and a host of other problems all increase. You can lower LDL cholesterol levels by eating healthy, stopping smoking, exercising, and losing weight. Most people who have a high LDL cholesterol level need medication to help lower it (https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp#.V3MIw0Iy08o).
Body weight and body mass index (a ratio of your weight to your height that is abbreviated BMI) can tell you a lot about your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, erectile dysfunction, stroke, and much more. Simply put, you need to maintain an ideal body weight to ensure your best possible health. You don’t want to be too thin, but you don’t want to be too heavy either. For most people, a BMI between 18.6 and 24.9 is considered optimal. That number may be different for some people based on muscle mass, ethnicity, or other factors. A doctor can help you to determine the right range for your particular body type.
More and more research is supporting the idea that your waist size may be a more important marker of general health than body weight or BMI. This appears to be because fat stored at the waistline is more directly associated with risks for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other conditions. Waist size has the added benefit of being easy to measure and track. For men, the maximum waist size is 40 inches. For women, the maximum waist circumference is 35 inches. These numbers do not apply to people from Central and South America or to people of South Asian, Japanese, or Chinese heritage. For these individuals, the measurements are 35 inches for men and 31 inches for women.
The numbers above are relatively easy to track and you should start recording them in your mid-thirties or early forties. By keeping tabs on these values, you’ll get early warnings if a health issues needs to be addressed. The old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is quite true. Keeping track of the above health numbers is a great way to ensure you catch health problems when an ounce of prevention is still enough to make a difference.